I’ve decided to finally sit down and read the bible, but I’m finding it to be terribly tedious. This book could benefit greatly from editing. I’m encountering a bunch of useless accounts of lineage and pointless stories that fail to advance the story or even one’s moral understanding. I’m working my way through Genesis right now. Can anyone offer suggestions as to the essentials of this section? In other words, what’s worth reading? I’m finding that a lot of it is a waste of my time.
I think I can give a different perspective, coming as I do from an Islamic background. I read the Bible many years ago (well parts of it anyway) and, ironically enough, it was probably the coup de grâce that finally made me acknowledge to myself that I no longer believed in Islam (in other words, I had already lost faith in Islam, but only faced up to that fact after studying the Bible).
Islam presents itself as a continuation to the Biblical tradition. According to Islam, Mohammed was the last in a long line of prophets from Adam to Jesus preaching to the world one identical message: there is only one true god; worship him alone and you will go to heaven, worship any other and you will go to hell. Noah, Abraham and Moses are portrayed in the Quran as earlier versions of Mohammed: they all preached against idolatry and were mocked by their respective peoples because, God damn it, they just loved those idols so much!
Well, when I read the Bible, I found something entirely different:
Noah was "righteous" and his people were "wicked", but he never said anything about idols. What's funny is that the Quran claims Noah's people worshiped idols named "Wadd, Suwaa, Yaouq, Yaghouth, and Nasr", which were Arabian idols worshipped in Mohammed's time and had Arabian names! Even Muslims don't claim that Noah spoke Arabic so they understandably gloss over this uncomfortable issue.
Abraham wasn't sent to remind people about the dangers of idolatry: his only function is to explain how Israel got "its" land. But, what about all those stories in the Quran about Abraham destroying the idols? Where did they come from? Well, it turns out the Quran got those from Jewish folk traditions written by a bunch of rabbis thousands of years after Abraham allegedly existed and long after the Bible was put in its final form.
Moses wasn't interested in Pharoah's religious beliefs and couldn't care less if he worshipped "God." All Moses wanted was for Pharoah to "let his people go." Heck, I think I got half-way through the book without finding anything that said YHWA was the only god. YHWA was Israel's God and he was only upset when "his" people worshipped other people's gods. He didn't care if the Assyrians or Egyptians or whoever worshiped their own gods; he just didn't want his people messing around with other people's gods.
And that's the point here: Islam was not the continuation of some eternal message, it was just an adaptation of the religion of some ancient Semitic tribe called "Israel." Judaism is not concerned with humanity's relationship with God, it's only concerned with Israel's relationship with YHWH. The Bible is not a history of the battle between montheism and idolatry (as the Quran portrays it), it is simply a history of the Jewish people. The whole concept of an afterlife never appears in the Torah and only appears at the end of the Bible as an afterthought. It turned out that even in Jesus's time there were still Jews who denied life after death (it seems most Jews today believe the same). Judaism (the progenitor of Christianity and Islam) is not concerned with salvation in the afterlife; it is all about the here and now. "Why are we oppressed by these other tribes and when will 'our God' smite them?" Christians co-opted this tradition and re-interpreted as a prelude to the appearance of Christ (and made the afterlife an essential part of their religion), Muslims did the same and shoehorned it into an eternal message of monotheism and of course co-opted the Christian idea of a judgment day and heaven and hell.
I can go on and on, but you get the picture. Of course, the official Muslim doctrine is that the Bible was "tampered with" and that should explain any "errors" in the Bible. But the origin of this doctrine was that the Jews and Christians tampered with the Bible to remove references to Muhammad, not that they removed references to idolatry and the day of judgment! The idea that everything in the Bible may have been tampered with came much later in Islamic history (which is why, in the past, the Muslims drew on the Bible for all the juicy details of the "prophets'" lives to supplement the sparse Quranic narratives without worrying about any alleged "tampering"). But even if you accept this "tampering" dogma, there's only so much you can explain away as the result of "tampering" before you face the truth that Islam is a man-made religion that evolved out of earlier, vastly different religions just like any other.
Thanks for sharing, Taha - and very informative. I don't know the Quran very well at all, but recently I've been Islam in debates against Christians. My tactic relies on the fact that Christianity and Islam are mutually exclusive, and the odds of anyone converting from one to the other are extremely low. That being said, an omnipotent god would know that people essentially can't convert, and so delivering them to be born to a family of the wrong religion would essentially work out to be creating them for no other purpose than to torture them for eternity.
Anyway, to me Islam is slightly less convoluted than Christianity in that it purports that there has only ever been one god. Apparently Mohammed didn't know that the Israelites and Judeans were separate tribes with separate gods, both of whom were considered to be married to the Semitic fertility goddess Asherah - not that any of it really makes much sense. But, yeah, if you start with those three, but cut Asherah out to avoid a ménage à trois, convert the name 'El' to a noun that means 'god' so you can refer to Yahweh by his name or as 'El', then add and earthly incarnation of this trinity who kills himself, and finally tack on an extra unnamed spirit to wrap up all five and relabel them a trinity - well then, yeah, one god simply called 'the god' is a lot less convoluted.
Using one religion to debate against another is rather fun, though, and a technique that I like to call, 'fighting mumbo jumbo with mumbo jumbo'.
I like it. Yes, in my case the mumbo jumbo of Judaism dealt a fatal blow to the mumbo jumbo of Islam (not that Judaism is any less mumbo-jumobey than Islam, of course).
If Islam is less convoluted than Judaism and Christianity, it's because it had the benefit of learning from those two religions' mistakes. It's basically Judaism 2.0 (or 3.0 if you count Christianity). But really, with all that hindsight, you'd think Islam could have done a better job. Mohammed was obviously impressed with Judaism but, as I showed above, he didn't realize that the monotheistic Judaism of his day was very different from the monolatrous Judaism that produced the Bible.