The Faces of God
I found the material in The Faces of God difficult to understand, but interesting to consider. I have read the material numerous times and still feel that I have only scratched upon the surface of the book’s message.
Introduction: Scientific Bible Criticism
“The entire topic of the faith from Abraham on is so hotly disputed that no single book can be pointed to as expressing the consensus of serious scholarship.” (pg 11). I can see how research and study of the Bible could be a difficult undertaking. America is a Christian dominated society. To question the “truth” and origin of the Bible could be taken as an attack against Christianity itself, especially when researchers suggest that the Bible may lie within the domain of mythology. However, I believe that looking into the history, origin and cultural influences within the Bible can only enrich the religions founded upon it. Additionally, challenging the Bible as a historically accurate work does not mean challenging it as a religiously valid work. As I have discussed in previous postings, I believe there are layers of truth. To be historically inaccurate or unclear in no way diminishes the underlying truthfulness of its overall message.
Another difficulty in examining the Bible is its multilayer nature; as Rabinowitz states on page 11: “It is a patchwork quilt made from other patch work quilts: there are layers, not only of source material, but of editing.” It’s hard to know how much of the Bible remains true to the original writings. Simply consider the numerous versions of the Bible in print today. Which, if any, is the most accurate? The introduction to the book Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth discussed the troubles they had when translating the material. Diane Wolkstein stated: “My aim has been to keep as close as possible to the power, wonder, and mystery embedded in the Sumerian texts, and simultaneously to render the stories both accessible and compelling.”(pg. xviii). She then goes on to explain how she made changes to the original text and in what ways we could tell when such changes had been made. It is clear that Wolkstein had a great love for the material she helped translate and brought to us in Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth, yet she made changes to the original work. When I read this, I was struck by how difficult it must be for a work to cross over into another language. And now, while reading The Faces of God, I cannot help but wonder what challenges faced the numerous translators of the Bible. Did they too change the text to make it more accessible to their readers?
Rabinowitz feels the two predominate styles for researching the Bible (archaeological vs. text analysis) have largely failed to bring real insight to the material. He then suggests that looking at the Bible as mythology could offer better insights. “It is worth remarking that Bible criticism went from viewing the material as Holy Writ to viewing it as History without ever stopping to consider it as Myth. It is as though there were an unconscious refusal to consider the Bible as true in any way but literal ways.” (Pg 12). I think the reluctance to view the Bible as mythology largely stems from our general practice to separate myth from modern religion, pushing myth into a thing of the past. This is a vise. To say a book founding a modern (active) religion is mythology is to suggest (unintentionally or otherwise) that the religion is false. It is a delicate matter to critically investigate a religious text without challenging the religion as well. However, as an interesting point, many of the definitions of myth, given in our first assignment, connected myth to religion as a necessary and defining point. How then, can we say that the religions of modern society are void of myth?
Introduction: Ugaritic Literature
The most important point of this brief section is made on page 13: “Thus, by the time David wrote his psalms, his people had been speaking Hebrew (a dialect of Canaanite) for about 1,000 years. The influence of Canaanite myth and culture was inevitably profound.” It is impossible, in my opinion, to learn another language without also being exposed to the culture of the people speaking that language. To read their works and to speak to their people is to come to know them. David and the other authors of the Bible were exposed to 1,000 years of Canaanite culture. I find it hard to believe that David’s culture was in no way influenced by Canaanite culture after such a long exposure. Additionally, nothing is written in isolation. All writers are influenced by the works they have read and by the cultures they are exposed to. Thus, I find it very difficult to believe that the Bible was in no way influenced by the previous mythos and other cultures surrounding it. I think the very fact that God (within the Bible) commands his worshippers to worship only him, this suggests that there were competing religions at the time the Bible was written. From the Bible: Exodus 20:3 “Thou shalt not have no other Gods before me.”; Deuteronomy 5:7&9 “Thou shalt have no other gods before me… Thou shalt not bow down thy self unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God…”; Deuteronomy 6:15&16 “Thou shall not go after other gods, of the gods of the people which are round about you; (For the Lord thy God is a jealous God among you) lest the anger of the Lord thy God be kindled against thee…” (King James Version of the Bible). And those are only a few of the places God commands us not to worship the gods of other people. It is interesting that the Old Testament never says he is the only god. In fact, it is suggested that there are other gods. It isn’t until the New Testament that the idea of the “One True God” arises (perhaps when Christianity is more strongly established?).
Introduction: Canaanite influence on the Bible
Within this section, Rabinowitz suggests that Yahweh (the Jewish God) is a transformation of the Canaanite deity El. He goes on to say: “an understanding of how religious symbolisms determine the shape of mythic histories is essential to a clear understanding of the material.” He implies here that it takes an understanding of mythology to understand the Bible. The connection between Yahweh and El is not readily apparent if one is not familiar with the symbolism of the mythologies. This is the foundation of his argument for looking at the Bible as mythology: looking at the symbols used in the Bible reveals their connection with Canaanite mythology. On the end of page 15 and onto the beginning of page 16: “What we hope to show here is that while the Canaanite material provided the symbolic vocabulary for the lion’s share of Hebrew Theology – this material was used very selectively, and what was selected underwent a process of abstraction and refinement in accord with a definite agenda.” This returns us to the point made earlier in this section. Because the materials were not simply cut out and pasted into the Bible, an understanding of the original Canaanite material is required.
With the writing of the Bible came a change in Religious doctrine that had strong political consequences. The god of the Bible states he is the only god and that worshipping any other is a sin against him. However, for Christianity to rise and overcome the pagan religions it had to convert or destroy these pagans. We are all familiar with the bloody history Christianity has carved out through the centuries in this endeavor. However, the quieter and more subtle history is that of the conversion. By incorporating familiar symbols into the Bible and revealing how they are truly connected to the “one true god”, made Christianity more familiar and accessible to the pagans. Thus, making it easier for conversion. I believe that the desire to convert others to the worship of a single god is the agenda mentioned by Rabinowitz. It’s true that Rabinowitz focuses mostly on the Jewish faith, but Christianity is the child of Judaism, founded on the same deity and the same religious text.
I have focused my discussion on the introduction of this book because I believe it lays the foundation for the rest of the book. It is within the introduction that Rabinowitz states his case; the rest of the book goes on to show where his beliefs are founded. Having little education regarding Canaanite mythology and without researching the other side on this subject, I cannot decide upon the validity of his later arguments. In either case, I find his ideas to be interesting.