Bible blog 1608 contains a statement about changes to the blog for 2015. I intend to work through the bible books of Genesis and Mark in tandem, as masterpieces which in their different ways, focus on the purposes of a creator God.
Genesis (Hebrew B’reshith) is part of the “five books of Moses,” the Jewish Torah or Law of God. It contains traditions from the remote past of the tribes of Israel, together with reflection on these traditions over several hundred years. These materials were brought together over time and finally edited into something like their present shape after the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon, maybe in the 5th century BCE. It is of course not written by Moses, nor has it ever been viewed by Jewish scholars as a substitute for either scientific accounts of the origins of the universe or detailed histories of the middle east.
It is a book of subtle stories that express Israel’s beliefs about its destiny as a people under God and about the character of their God.
It is not concerned like a modern historical novel to present a smooth, connected narrative. For example, the creation of human beings is told twice in the first three chapters, without embarrassment. Abraham is depicted trying to plead with a wrathful God over the destruction of Sodom, and succeeds in modifying his anger, but the city is still destroyed. Indeed the contradictions of being God are ironically exposed when we see that a mighty creator cannot force his creatures to obey, especially when his only coercion is the threat of mass destruction which is contrary to his own creative will. Even the theology of this book is contrary to modern standards; it is much less reverent and more interesting.
It is an adult book about human beings and God which asks the readers to use their imaginations as well as their judgment to understand the hard-won wisdom of many centuries.
Mark’s gospel may seem very different at first sight. It’s much shorter and represents a very short period of time-perhaps no more than a year in the public ministry of a Galilean prophet until his crucifixion by the Roman authority in Jerusalem. The time lapse between the events it narrates and the time of composition is a mere 40 or so years, although these years had seen the re-telling and elaboration of the story of Jesus of Nazareth by his followers, first of all in synagogues, and then in faith communities spread over a large part of the Roman empire.
The aim of the writer is very similar to that of the editors and storytellers of Genesis. He wants to tell how the creator God makes his goodness (he calls it his “kingdom”) effective in the world through the human being who is called his son. He sees this as a new beginning for humanity and uses an old prophetic word to describe its nature: it is “glad tidings”, “good news”, “gospel”. His story is less concerned with factual history than with the interactions of God, his Son and the Jewish people, bending historical probability in order to reveal a battle between good and evil, which results in the apparent victory of evil. (Mark’s story has no account of the resurrection; everything after Mark 16:8 are additions to his text.) He is also not ashamed to tell a story twice if he wants to make a point, as witness the two stories of Jesus feeding people, first 5000 and then 4000.
Tackling these two masterpieces together will be a challenge, but I hope readers will find it as exciting a prospect as I do, and that our understanding of ourselves and of God will be enhanced by our study.