Reading Scripture

Shapira Manuscript

Well, it seems that buying a home is playing havoc with getting the Theology Brewing Letter out in a timely, fortnightly manner. I didn’t quite plan on what is involved when it is a private sale, rather than through a Realtor. At least now there is nothing left to do, except to wait for closing.

Now, I can get back to writing, at least until the move comes upon us at the end of April.

For this letter I had planned to write on a different topic. However, along the way I read about the Shapira Manuscript. This manuscript of Deuteronomy has long been considered by many biblical and linguistic scholars to be a forgery, a fake. Recent research, especially that undertaken by Idan Dershowitz of the University of Potsdam in Germany, has begun to call into question that assumption.

What is interesting about the manuscript is that it is quite different than the text of Deuteronomy found in our bibles. For one thing, it is missing all the laws with the exception of the Ten Commandments, to which this line has been added, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart: I am God, your god.”  Another striking difference is that throughout the manuscript the deity is consistently rendered in the first person.

The story of the late 1800s antiquities dealer, Moses Wilhelm Shapira, and the manuscript is full of intrigue, jealousies, underhand dealings and forgeries, but that’s a story for another time. I will leave the authenticity of the manuscript to the scholars.

As I read the New York Times piece I began to think about how I read the “authoritative” text and how that effects my faith?

No, let me rephrase that: What these changes do, rather than to, for my faith.

Understanding that scripture is essentially the recording of people’s memories of events, worship meditations, stories of the human understanding of one’s God-experiences (to give personal meaning to those experience), and/or the evolution (or devolution) of laws, rituals, and other practices based on these understandings is freeing, yet in no way undermines my understanding of the love of God or the work of Christ in his death and resurrection. In fact, understanding the scripture in this way enforces the divine work in my life.

With this understanding I do not feel the need to struggle to reconcile apparent discrepancies and contradictions in scripture. I am free to accept them as what they are – individual God-experiences – and apply their lessons to my God-experiences. With this understanding I am given the freedom to find Holy Truths embedded in the text. With this understanding I am free to understand the scriptures in the context – historical and personal – within which they were written, and to understand that my faith is not a stagnant faith, but a constantly evolving one. Because of context I am free to disregard an interpretation of a passage that appears to contradict God’s love for all of Creation.

I compare this freedom to how I go about understanding Celtic spirituality, and subsequently, Celtic Christianity. I realize that the myths and legends of the Celts of old, as well as of those of saints, contain truths of the divine working in the midst of Creation. I don’t accept them as accurate; I do accept them as inspired by God. For we are taught, both in Celtic spirituality and Christian spirituality, that we humans are made in the image of the divine, and if that is true, that must include the divine Spirit which continually inspires our God-experience.

With both the bible and Celtic stories I read not for the historic accuracy, but rather to seek to understand what the author is saying about his personal context and how those stories fit into that. As Peter Ennis notes, we are dealing with two pasts, “the past of the event and the past of the author.” Therefore, it is safe to assume that the story as we have it, is telling as much about experiences of the author as it is about the event.

This is freeing, now I don’t have to struggle with contradictions and seeming impossibilities to buttress my faith. Nor do I have to resolve those seemingly unanswerable questions. By reading scripture in this way, I free my self to hear the voice of God in the understanding of everyday God-experiences, of not “holy people,” but of people just like me.

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