After a few years of reading through and blogging about the Old Testament, I have learned a few things and had some realizations that I wouldn’t otherwise have had.
- It really is worth the trouble to get into the text itself and know what people are arguing about when they say things about the Bible. There’s just no substitute for reading it yourself, not even going to church or reading synopses or even story versions. It’s easy to miss some of the rules or the meanings of some stories when we do that.
- There are a ridiculous amount of verses misquoted or erroneously applied to lots of situations. Really, reading through on my own made it hard for me to walk through almost any Christian anything store. A lot of the really nice quotes that I see all over the place are places where God is talking to a specific person and people assume its true for everyone. It could be, but it could also not be.
- The Old Testament isn’t so much against women as it is not for us. Yes, there were a few places along the way (ahem, Deuteronomy) that were particularly not good for women, but there were far more places where we were simply not addressed at all and left to assume our presence or absence or whether or not something applied to us. The book appears to be written for a specifically male audience, which means that the understanding of the female everything was left for us to interpret separately somewhere, possibly from their tutelage. I don’t really know about that.
- Traditional interpretations are far more sexist than what is actually written on the page. I found myself discarding the commentaries I’d gotten and going it alone so as not to be influenced by more traditional thought. I did my best to just read it and think about it and do some research where things seemed to have more meaning or be confusing.
- The places where specific women are mentioned show a wide array of personality types and ambitions. I could only wish for more fiction that is this nuanced and has so many possibilities for female characters. I feel like a key thing that historical fiction especially has missed is that women are different and want different things and it doesn’t always match up with what society or men think we want. I adored many of the women who had done things noteworthy enough to be mentioned at all, particularly named, and I had other strong feelings about others.
- Mention of women is not dependent on good behavior. There are plenty of ill-mannered women here, along with those of differing sexual experience. The idea that only virgins can make it through a harrowing event (as in the old horror flicks) did not come from theological study at all. There are some women who go out and get things done on their own, at times even using sexual prowess to do it and they are remembered for getting it done above all else. Sure, some are bad women who die horrible deaths, but that they usurped the will of the men around them was not the only thing that brought about their downfall.
- Though there are some stories we hear as children from the Old Testament, there is a lot more good stuff that “doesn’t preach” in the words of my husband. Like all of Jeremiah and most of the later prophets when they are reminding people to be good neighbors and what that specifically entails.
- The Old Testament is not solely for the background of Jesus. I had thought it was before actually reading it, but it’s background for God. It shows a lot of what God wants and the ways He tried to get us to do those things. It’s good on it’s own because it’s more than strict rules for living and sacrificing. It’s about forgiveness and how many times God is willing to forgive us, but also about repentance and punishment and what we do wrong as people.
- Those stories we hear as children are all sanitized and simplified and romanticized. Sunday schools want to make children want to be like Joseph because he’s a great example of keeping faith with God in a bad situation, but they don’t always describe the situation well enough in the beginning to show kids just how bad it can get before it gets better. More than that, other stories should show that sometimes it won’t get better in one lifetime and people can suffer without relief just because it isn’t time yet.
- God is not a wishbox, not even for the chosen people. There are places in the beginning that seem to prove the Prosperity Gospel but there is so much more that shows up against it.
These are the big things that I learned in the last few years. There are some little things along the way that I learned about this person or that person that was new, but these are the overarching lessons that I took from this project so far. I’m looking forward to getting into the New Testament next month. There are a few more things I’d like to cover before diving in. Coming up still are the major events between the end of the Old Testament and when Jesus was born; the books of the Old Testament that would have been available to the Jews of Jesus’s time and what they would have been preaching from, and an introduction to the New Testament and some things to expect to see or look for getting into it.