Book review: Beyond the Texts

You can find a lot of different views on the internet about the accuracy of Old Testament history and how archaeology does, or doesn’t, support the Old Testament accounts. Minimalist historians, and internet sceptics, will tell you it’s almost all invented myth, while maximalist historians and christian apologists will tell you that archaeology supports the truth of the entire Bible.

How does an honest seeker after the truth find a way between the conflicting extremes to a fair understanding?

The best way, it seems to me, is to read an expert who is as unbiased as possible, with a slight leaning towards the sceptical. That way, I can be reasonably confident that anything the expert tells me is likely to be accurate, and maybe a little more besides.

So it was with these expectations that I purchased and read William Dever’s Beyond the Texts: An Archaeological Portrait of Ancient Israel and Judah. And it lived up to my hopes.

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“Because of her, we can”

Like many countries colonised by European nations, Australia has a sorry two century history of poor treatment of our indigenous peoples, resulting in a significant reduction in their numbers and the quality of their lives. But they have survived, their numbers are building again, and many indigenous leaders are become more forthright in their pleas for greater recognition.

NAIDOC week, which is finishing as I write this (I wrote this Sunday night but only posted it Wednesday morning), has been set up as a celebration of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It has been, in my view, a resounding success.

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Letting the Bible be what it is, not what we would like it to be

I didn’t grow up in a christian family, but I was sent to Sunday School from when I was young. And so I learnt to believe that the Bible was true.

It was only later, in my late teens, that I began to discover some anomalies in the Bible that didn’t fit what I had been taught.

I didn’t continue to believe what I was taught, despite the problems, as many people do. And I didn’t decide that if the Bible isn’t what I thought it was, it couldn’t be true at all, and so give up my faith faith, as others do.

Instead I grappled with the anomalies and often ended up modifying my understanding of the Bible and of God.

I want to share my journey with one such anomaly that has changed some of how I think about the Bible and about the christian faith.

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How a deep and growing divide is killing Protestant christianity – or maybe renewing it!

Right from the earliest days, there have always been disagreements within the christian community. Some are resolved, but some lead to major splits, new denominations or new doctrinal positions.

I have the feeling that a major, and probably irreversible, divergence is brewing in the western Protestant church, between those we may label “evangelical” and those we may label “progressive”.

Both evangelicals and progressives generally hold to the core truths of christianity as expressed in the Apostles Creed – the trinity of God the father and creator; Jesus the incarnate son, teacher, healer, dying saviour and resurrected Lord; and the Holy Spirit living within each believer. But there are some distinctives of these two viewpoints which I think will continue to lead to divergence and separation.

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Jesus the social and religious radical – 5 lessons from a dishonourable encounter

The facts about Jesus are clearly stated in the gospels, and they don’t change, but people have so many different understandings of him. The Catholic Jesus or Orthodox Jesus is not the same as the evangelical Protestant Jesus, or the Jesus of liberal Protestant theologians.

I think there is probably some truth in all portraits, including that Jesus was a prophet, and a social and religious radical. Nothing shows this more than his treatment of women and social outcasts.

As Simon the Pharisee discovered when he invited Jesus to a banquet and discussion …..

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Book review: Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes

This is quite simply one of the best and most enlightening books I have read about Jesus and the Gospels.

I have learnt so much that has helped me make better sense of the gospels and of my faith (although I am certainly not claiming to be like Maria in the Counting Crows song, Round Here, who says she is “close to understanding Jesus”!)

Let me tell you why I am so enthused.

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Book review: Disarming Scripture

Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood

The Old Testament world was a violent place.

For a christian, the most troubling violence is surely that said to be commanded by God, whether it be Abraham being commanded to sacrifice his son and heir Isaac, Joshua commanded to exterminate Canaanites who are unfortunate enough to be living in the “Promised Land”, the command through Elisha that Jehu should kill all the family of the line of Ahab (Joram, Jezebel and all their relatives), or many other incidents.

Christians must face the challenge: if God commanded these killings, how can we say he is loving?

This book addresses the question of violence attributed to God in the Bible, and how that can be consistent with the non-violent teachings of Jesus. And it comes with recommendations from no lesser luminaries than Walter Brueggemann, Brian McLaren, Peter Enns, Jim Wallis and Brian Zahnd.

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Did the exodus really happen?

The exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and their travel to the Promised Land is one of the key events in Jewish religious history, and, therefore, in christian belief as well.

But did it actually happen? Did something like 2 million people cross the Red Sea and through the Sinai, aided and guided by miraculous interventions by God?

Scholars from various disciplines have argued about the facts for years now, but perhaps there is some sort of consensus emerging. Perhaps.

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