Higher Biblical criticism mainly flourished from the late 19th into the mid 20th century. Frankly, since then potential biblical scholars have tended to go into other types of service — medicine, law, teaching, etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_criticism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higher_criticism

What it firmly established was that the Biblical texts were the equivalent of fruitcakes embedded with all sorts of materials collected from various sources and reformulated by a series of ‘editors’ (with their own particular biases) over many centuries . Spinoza back in the 17th century got himself banned from respectable Jewish circles by pointing out that it might have been a bit difficult for Moses to have written his own obit.

I studied such things back in the 1950s with special interest because I was being taught by some of my grand father’s students — he had been perhaps our leading American Biblical scholar in such matters with many books to his name on the various Biblical texts. My father recalled playing with Arab boys in the Holy Land where his father did some of his original archaeological studies.

What was discovered among other things was that many things had been borrowed from other and even hostile religions such as the lex talionis (eye for an eye basis for the death penalty) taken from what was discovered to be an ancient Babylonian commercial code. Genesis was, itself, cribbed in parts from the Babylonians, too. It was realized that there were really two versions of Genesis — the one with creation by days which probably was the newer — and the more ancient Adam and Eve version. Noah and the Flood was originally a Babylonian tale — figures with the Iraqi rivers (Tigris and Euphrates) where we are now bogged down at war. See the Gilgamesh Epic, etc.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilgamesh

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epic_of_Gilgamesh

The Song of Solomon was a love poem. Medieval theologians suggested (to fit such stuff into their context) that it was really an allegory representing the relationship of Jesus and his church. The Gospels were written long after the death of Jesus — each with its separate slant — Matthew towards Jews. Mark possibly the earliest and most reduced. Luke a replay of the events in the life of Moses and the only one to include the lovely Christmas narrative. Early Christians did not celebrate Christmas which probably stole its date from a Roman sun god — born on the shortest day of the year — until about 3 centuries after Jesus died. The Gospel of John was directed to Greeks (Hellenes) and, as Chris Hedges, now journalist, and former divinity student, points out, is horribly anti-Semitic as is much of the offerings of St. Paul who as a convert from Judaism (named Saul) despised gays, unconverted Jews, denigrated women and advised against marriage — unless one was burning with lust, and anticipated that the world would end before he, himself, died with the second coming of Jesus. Unfortunately for the unfolding of Christianity, his letters (epistles) were circulated earlier than the Gospel and so his spin has endured over the millennia (with pogroms galore). Luther followed his lead as an anti-Semite and hater of Catholics as well. His texts have been expurgated in English of unprintable words.

And so when our fundamentalists of all world religions argue that we must go back to the original divinely dictated words for our guides to action, beware. These ancient text emerged out of murderous times, recommended in the case of Joshua, genocide which Christians have been known to practice, etc. This does not mean that all fundamentalists are dangerous. But the dangerous ones — the haters — are notorious for finding texts to justify their hatreds and murders and torture of others. See the practices of the Inquisition which saw Catholics burning to death Protestants and vice versa.

The websites above are not the best — Wiki territory can be better and worse, but they more or less confirm my report here. And there is not much serious Biblical scholarship being done these days so far as I can determine.

I mention all of the above because some of the Christian fundamentalists are now claiming that our wars in the Middle East are divinely sanctioned. Some of the Muslim terrorists are picking and choosing texts to justify killing people. Some of our American fundies have called for assassinating people like Hugo Chavez and claim that the floods that hit New Orleans were divine punishment. Some of the Israeli extremists believe that they are recalled by g-d to reclaim Judea (where Palestinians still live on the West Bank) while the Christian apocalypse people support the restoration of Israel — to bring about the end of the world with its the death of all Jews who have not yet accepted conversion to Christianity. Weird — but some people listen to and believe such garbage.

Beware! And if you are a religious believer, study the roots of your tradition and what it really asks of you. That is not the easiest thing to do with all the variant interpretations.

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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