Hey Guys,

So I'm just looking to brush up on my knowledge regarding Christian beliefs so that I'm better prepared to explain my position of disbelief when the discussion arises (it has been a much more common topic around the house than I'd like, especially being the sole atheist of the family). I have some general questions mainly concerning timelines, tailored beliefs and context of things relating to the Bible. Any insight or helpful links would be greatly appreciated. Alright, so here's what I'd like more info on:

1) Does the Bible condone slavery? Every Christian that's confronted with this seems to flat out deny that it does, stating that those "slaves" were people who volunteered themselves to serve.

2) Over what period of time was the Bible written?

3) What's the story of Abraham killing his son?

4) Who are Cain and Abel?

5) What misogynist things does the Bible say about women?

6) Why don't Christians like to follow the Old Testament?

7) What has the Bible "predicted"?

8) Does the Bible have any racist implications?

9) Who was Mary Magdalene and what was so special about her?

10) What other religions does the Bible "borrow" from?

Thanks in advance! <3

Tags: abraham, atheism, bible, context, debate, god, jesus, misogyny, questions, racism, More…women

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I'd say read the Bible.  Get it on tape, whatever.  It's entertaining, believe it or not.  You will be astounded at what people believe as something that actually happened.

Check out "Don't Know Much About the Bible" by Kenneth C. Davis.  Good historian.  Probably a believer but that doesn't influence his writing too much.  Also, if you can find it, Asimov's Guide to the Bible.  Many pages but Asimov is always easy to read and entertaining.  Was totally an atheist.

I recommend you do your own research at the following website: Skeptics Annotated Bible

Hello @Asidius.  In case it is helpful to you, I'll answer as a believer.  You must keep in mind that I am (like most Christians) not a fundamentalist, but a traditional Catholic.  My Protestant, Jewish, and fundamentalist Christian brethren will have slightly different takes on things.

1) No.  The middle east of the old testament did have something that gets translated in English text as "slave" or "slavery", but it was not the chattel slavery of, for example, American blacks.  It was primarily a form of indentured servitude.  All modern believers take the Exodus story as a divine condemnation of slavery of all forms.

2) Call it roughly 2800 BC to 250 AD.  We Catholics didn't settle on our current/final version of the Bible until the Council of Trent in the 1500s.  That includes a period of oral history; compilation into scrolls not until the Jews settled in the Promised land under the Davidic line of kings.   Compilation into the Christian Bible not until the 4th century.

3) You can read it, it's in Genesis.  Abraham's son Isaac was a gift from God in his and his wife's old age, very precious to him.  As a test of faith, God asked him to sacrifice his son, and Abraham was willing.  God then stopped him from doing it and rewarded him for his faith.  There are probably hundreds of thousands of pages of commentary on the story in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic writing. 

4) You can read it, in Genesis.  Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve in the story.  Cain became jealous of his brother and killed Abel because of his jealousy.

5) The bible, particularly the Old Testament, was written in the middle east.  Even today, semi-nomadic desert people have different views of the role of women owing to the realities of that kind of life.   I would not say misogynist, but I would say "traditional", and in some cases culturally out of date.

6) No Christian would say that.  Christians do, however, believe that in some ways the New Covenant (described in the New Testament) perfects / replaces the Old Covenant (described in the Old Testament).  The Old Covenant was with the Jewish people, and most modern Christians are not from that group, so they identify more closely with the revelation of God to the gentiles.  In some things, Jesus was explicit in replacing/perfecting Old Testament teachings, and we Christians follow that example.

7) Like in some magical prophecy sort of way?  Nothing really.   "Prophet" in bible-speak means more like spokesperson for God than fortune teller.  So you have prophets saying "if you don't stop mistreating people things are going to fall apart" and then they do fall apart.  Christians also believe that some passages of the Old Testament foreshadow the coming of Jesus as Messiah.

8) The Jewish people are the Chosen people.  To the extent you believe that's racist, I guess so.  Otherwise no. Certainly, though, racists have (mis)used isolated biblical texts, particularly the story of Pilate's condemnation of Jesus to death in the Gospel of Matthew.

9) Mary Magdalene was one of several female disciples of Jesus, who is mentioned frequently in the Gospels (more frequently than most of the apostles), and present at the crucifixion and resurrection.  There were several Marys who were followers of Jesus, and they tend to get mixed up, so Mary Magdelene is sometimes thought of as a repentant prostitute.

10) It's not so much that the Bible borrows from other religions, as the culture of the different writers is influenced by other religions.  Certainly Judaism, but also elements of Zoroastrianism, Greek philosophy, and others can be found, as well as many tales and language common throughout that part of the world.   Some of the Bible details how Jews resisted "foreign" religious influences.

More Doc Bob soft-shoe, they're not misogynist, Asidius, they're "traditional, and in some cases culturally out of date."

What would the good doctor do without his euphemisms? I'm too tired to contend with his Rope-a-Dope tonight. He's partly right about #10, though - "It's not so much that the Bible borrows from other religions," it's that it blatantly steals from them.

It's always easy for someone from one culture to be judgmental about another culture without having any experience.  In a few cases, it is justified; in most cases, it is just biased egotism; in a few cases, it is ugly bigotry.

Spend some time in the region, with people living traditional lifestyles and their descendants.  Misogynist really doesn't come to mind for most, just division of labor.  At other times, particularly with some of our fundamentalist Islamic friends, misogynism is very real.  Some norms change gradually over time, as people move from being nomadic herders to city dwellers. 

"It's not so much that the Bible borrows from other religions," it's that it blatantly steals from them.

Really?   You think the scribes in Palestine sat with a copy of Babylonian scrolls and deliberately plagiarized?  Complete nonsense.  They were recording things from oral history and other oral culture exchange in an era where the vast majority of people weren't literate. 

A bigger question would be why you think that learning from others, sharing and adapting ideas is a bad thing?   When we do that sort of thing in science, we call it "collaboration" and "exchange", not stealing.

RE: "Really?   You think the scribes in Palestine sat with a copy of Babylonian scrolls and deliberately plagiarized?" - no, I think the scribes in Babylon sat with copies of Babylonian scrolls and deliberately plagiarized.

"A bigger question would be why you think that learning from others, sharing and adapting ideas is a bad thing?   When we do that sort of thing in science, we call it "collaboration" and "exchange", not stealing."

Not a problem Bob, if all of the Bible publishers are willing to open Gen 6 with a disclaimer: "Hey folks, the story you're about to read was adapted from a Mesopotamian flood story, greatly exaggerated, and presented to influence you morally." Do you think that will happen? Or do you think the religious establishment in general will continue to maintain that the Bible is inerrant?

"They were recording things from oral history and other oral culture exchange in an era where the vast majority of people weren't literate."

Yes,, they recorded much of Genesis orally, because for some reason, the Hebrews developed literacy much later that the surrounding cultures, for which cause I strongly suspect their nomadic lifestyle. When we "borrow" ideas in science, the more scrupulous of us credit our sources.

"It's always easy for someone from one culture to be judgmental about another culture without having any experience.  In a few cases, it is justified; in most cases, it is just biased egotism; in a few cases, it is ugly bigotry.

"Spend some time in the region, with people living traditional lifestyles"

Too true - so for me to better understand pedophiles, you advise that I move in with some - is the Catholic Church still taking drop-ins? Maybe if I applied for 'Sanctuary'?

if all of the Bible publishers are willing to open Gen 6 with a disclaimer: "Hey folks, the story you're about to read was adapted from a Mesopotamian flood story, greatly exaggerated, and presented to influence you morally." Do you think that will happen?

Well, just out of curiosity I opened up my copy of the Catholic New American Bible to the book of Genesis, which begins with a short commentary.  Here's what it says:

"The plot of Gn 2-11 has been borrowed from creation-flood stories attested in Mesopotamian literature of the second and early first millennia... The authors of Genesis adapted the creation-flood story in accord with their views of God and humanity."

"How should modern readers interpret the creation-flood story?...  [To call it] 'history' is misleading, for it suggests that the events actually took place.  The best term is creation-flood story.  Ancient Near Eastern thinkers did not have our methods of exploring serious questions.  Instead, they used narratives for issues that we would call philosophical and theological.  They added and subtracted narrative details and varied the plot as they sought meaning in the ancient stories."

The Catholic New American Bible is of course an officially sanctioned translation done by my Church, so in answer to your question "Will it happen?" I would say "Yes, it actually happened quite some time ago."  This is stuff I was taught in Catholic theology probably decades before you were born.

What I meant, and thought I had alluded to, was such a disclaimer immediately preceding the flood chapter, rather than buried in the Preface of Introduction somewhere.

Actually, it may surprise you to learn that although short of dating a couple of Catholic girls, I have no personal experience with the Catholic Church, I do in fact rely quite heavily on The New American Bible, and have often commented, here and on other sites, that this version is far more forthcoming than the King James has ever been. The NAB fully accepts Wellhausen's Documentary Hypothesis, and freely admits such anachronisms as Pharoah giving old Abe camels in exchange for the lend-lease of his wife, in 2000+ BCE, which wouldn't be domesticated for another thousand years.

In fact, you could take de-obfuscation lessons from them --

Do you still say, "Happy New Year!" to deconverts from Judaism on Rosh Hashanah? I mean, a New Year's a New Year, right?

So I'm just looking to brush up on my knowledge regarding Christian beliefs so that I'm better prepared to explain my position of disbelief when the discussion arises.

I'm assuming you mean 'explain your disbelief in God' and not 'disbelief in the Christian religion'. If you mean the former there's no need to bother with the Bible at all. But if you must, then Genesis 1:1 is all you need to know:

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." - Gen. 1:1

I don't believe in God because the persons and holy books putting forth the claim that God exists have no evidence. So, four words into the Bible the unsupported claim appears. Stop right there. Read no further.

Demand the claimant provide evidence that God exists. If they tell you to flip to another passage in the Bible, remind them that the Bible is the claim not the evidence. Toss it aside. You're done. It's that easy.

Crackpot: God exists!
Me: Evidence, please?
Crackpot: There is none.
Me: I don't believe you.

That's it, in shorthand.

I wonder how many books and papers and theories get tossed aside by people unwilling to read past the first line.

The first chapter of Genesis is a Hebraic poem.  We're supposed to think it's rational to reject an entire work because we want every line of every poem that we read to be realistic?

Might I humbly suggest that it's a better choice to read the poem as a poem, or story as it was intended, rather than being an overly prosaic fundamentalist? 

Besides, if we are going to be all picky about things, to reject a theory we must falsify it or decide it is not useful.   In order to do that, I expect we first have to take the time to actually understand the theory.

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