I am not a biblical exegete, someone capable of reading scripture and offering clarity and explanation. I am not a born-again Christian, nor a Christian of any kind, really. Still, I used to be both, and with a passion. Without a lot of hesitation, critical thought or thought of any kind, really, I accepted the Bible as the Word of God, the New Testament written in Greek and translated into English without any meaningful crumbs falling to the floor. Because I believed that, I also believed the messages within, no matter how shadowy or confusing
Feed the poor? Of course.
If you don’t work, you don’t eat? Absolutely.
Long-dead prophets walked the streets of Jerusalem following the resurrection? Well, yeah.
If a man slaps your face, offer him your other cheek for more? Ummmm. Yup.
Jesus is coming back with a pack of angels for vengeance on those who don’t believe in him? Well, why wouldn’t he?
After a while, I couldn’t keep the story straight, in my head or in my heart, and each new situation would lead to a need to pull out all the relevant scriptures to figure out the Christian thing to do. In the born-again circles I swam in, this was called “proof-texting” and it was frowned upon and universally practiced. Eventually, the Bible came to feel more like the I Ching, or a stacked Tarot deck than the Word of God.
The above is not to say I was a good Christian, or a good man. I wasn’t either. I was, though, a serious Christian, one who believed all the right things without doing them. Orthodoxy over orthopraxis was, if not my motto, my operating principle. I believe I told more lies and hurt more people during my two-and-a-half years as a Christian than I did before or have since. Many folks accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, clean up their acts a bit, and move on with their lives. Not me. I just put on the armor of God and protected myself from the slings and arrows of common decency.
That said, I do read the Bible. I read it until my brain swims, and I wonder how I managed to balance all the contradictions and still walk down the street. For example, this morning I wanted to look up the context of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” thinking that this part of Exodus was demonstrating a bit of moral clarity. I think most of the ancient world saw all crime as capital crime. You’ve slept with a married woman? Death. You’ve broken another man’s false idol? Death. You’ve knocked out your uncle’s tooth in a drunken brawl over the last drumstick? Death.
My naïve thought had been that God was saying, in effect, “Hold your horses, Boys. Let the punishment fit the crime. If someone has stolen your ox, they owe you an ox, not their lives. If a man has poked your eye out in a game of mumblety-peg, you get one of his eyes, not his whole head.” While moral evolution still had a long way to go, the notion of equivalence is at least equal to our simian ancestors getting out of the trees. Unfortunately, the context for this edict is bushels of horrifying nonsense, like pulling a Pop-Tart out of a Porta-Potty. Three sentences after “eye for eye” we get:
If an ox gores a man or woman to death, the ox shall surely be stoned, and the meat shall not be eaten. The owner of the ox shall be free.
Then, shortly after that, we find:
If a man lies with a beast shall be put to death.
So, to clarify, if my ox, Hilda, gores your husband to death, leaving you without support, we kill Hilda, let her corpse rot and I go scot-free. If, that night, I become amorous with Hilda’s sister, Millie, and get caught in flagrante de-oxen, I am killed. One ox kills your husband=death to that ox
I have sex with an ox=death to me
Now, before I get letters accusing me of being soft on hot loving between men and beasts of burden, I don’t think men should put their private parts inside any creature incapable of saying, “Ohhhhhhhhh!” or “Are you almost done?” Still, to return to the ox-caused death of your husband—and now that you’re a widow, why don’t you give me your number?—I think most folks would stipulate a fundamental disconnect between the dead, uneaten, ox and a human life. Most folks except Yahweh and his amanuensis, Moses.
As I said, I am not a biblical exegete, someone capable of reading scripture and bringing moral lessons out of three-thousand-year-old civic codes seemingly based on an unrecognizable notion of justice. Still, I do like dipping into the Bible now and then, if only to show myself that I’ve positively evolved over time, even if it hasn’t.