An enjoyable, lighthearted article by Valarie Tarico — Why is the Bible So Badly Written?
A well-written book should be clear and concise, with all factual statements accurate and characters neither two-dimensional nor plagued with multiple personality disorder—unless they actually are. A book written by a god should be some of the best writing ever produced. It should beat Shakespeare on enduring relevance, Stephen Hawking on scientific accuracy, Pablo Neruda on poetry, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on ethical coherence, and Maya Angelou on sheer lucid beauty—just to name a few.
Then this ….
But why is the Bible so badly written? Falling short of perfection is one thing, but the Bible has been the subject of literally thousands of follow-on books by people who were genuinely trying to figure out what it means. Despite best efforts, their conclusions don’t converge, which is one reason Christianity has fragmented into over 40,000 denominations and non-denominations.
And then this ….
Long lists of begats in the Gospels; greetings to this person and that in the Pauline epistles; instructions on how to sacrifice a dove in Leviticus or purify a virgin war captive in Numbers; ‘chosen people’ genealogies; prohibitions against eating creatures that don’t exist; pages of threats against enemies of Israel; coded rants against the Roman Empire. . .
As a modern person reading the Bible, one can’t help but think about how the pages might have been better filled. Could none of this have been pared away? Couldn’t the writers have made room instead for a few short sentences that might have changed history Wash your hands after you poop.Don’t have sex with someone who doesn’t want to.Witchcraft isn’t real. Slavery is forbidden. We are all God’s chosen people.
Have a read if you are in a mood for a lighthearted musing (with an underlying serious intent): Why is the Bible So Badly Written?
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12 thoughts on “Why is the Bible So Badly Written?”
“The Bible only appears to be badly written because your heart has been hardened and you reject God’s love and His offer of salvation.”
This was the answer from my childhood that explained away such claims as “The Bible is badly written”.
Religion was an integral part of the dysfunction in my family of origin. Growing up in an evangelical Christian, non denominational, Bible thumping, baptism totally under water (sprinkling is the work of the devil), family, we often sang this song in church:
It’s the B-I-B-L-E.
Yes that’s the book for me.
I stand alone on the word of God.
And I remember thinking “The Bible is our sole rule of faith and practice” was a verse from the Bible.
I new the Bible was the inerrant word of God long before I knew what the word ‘inerrant’ meant.
The Bible may be poorly written, but those using it to indoctrinate children do a very good job of explaining it.
I don’t know Neil……..? The author may be much smarter then any of us give him/them credit for. It’s still a best seller! Everybody reads it, at least once! Some spend countless hours trying to figure it out! Others spend a life time writing books and papers about it! Now days we have people writing blogs about it, doing Utubes, twitting, twitching and even squirming about it. What I really can not understand, those people who do not even believe in it or it’s author who waste their life’s reading and trying to figure it out. Looks to a rational person….. he / them / it, is much smarter then all the rest of the humans that have ever lived! By the way…. I would like to have a penny for every dollar made off of the Greatest book ever written.
The “Bible” would be “the word” of a very clumsy, semi-literate and self-contradictory “God” if it were not just a hodgepodge jumble of poorly written books and letters by men, edited and twisted and assembled by rabbis and priests to fit their own thinking and beliefs.
Some may have made some sense originally, such as Proverbs and Koheleth and “The Book of J”, which, according to its author Harold Bloom, was written by a woman who was a fierce ironic writer on par with Homer, Shakespeare and Tolstoy.
Whatever else, for instance, the Gospel of Mark is, it is a highly sophisticated intertextual piece of writing.
I dunno about that John.
Highly praised maybe and strongly hyped by readers with a vested interest, and no doubt it has some good lines worthy of a hack script writer for a movie at least [and that was not meant to be negative, some very good writers have written movie scripts- Gore Vidal and Dalton Trumbo just to name two].
But I’m not sure it deserves the praise it has received.
Recently I was re -reading the first book on christianity I purchased [second hand for 2$] – “St. Mark – a commentary” by Dennis Nineham Pelican 1963.
My aim was just to see how often the author of g”Mark” bases his material on the OT [and other] and I thought I’d just list and count the references to the OT as identified and commented on by Dennis as a rough indicator.
I got as far as CH. 1 of “Mark” and the count was round about 46 OT plus references listed by Dennis in 45 verses, ranging from direct quotes from material of others by author g”Mark”, [albeit a couple of times inaccurately so eg Nineham “…certain small changes have been introduced into the [OT] text [by “Mark” to make the quotation refer to Jesus” p.60] to indirect but strong enough to be counted by Dennis as noteworthy eg “…it is true that in the Servant passages of Isaiah .. the ideas are expressed in terms not unlike those in gMark” p.62.
And on top of that Denis identified very similar material both in thought and presentation from pre-christian texts such as “The Testament of the 12 Patriarchs”, several examples thereof, [which actually has nebulous chronology as Dennis footnoted] , Diogenes Laertius and Paul’s genuine writings. Of course Dennis reckons the stories are real and largely based on ‘oral tradition”.
But was struck me reading this again is how simple, run of the mill even, it all was – “introducing the JC character, JC meets the disciples, here are his miracles…” using OT+ themes and words and that’s pretty much CH 1.
Not impressive, certainly not sophisticated and not original.
I agree that Mark is actually really awesome, a sort of wild inter-textual inter-linguistic messianic thriller. Similarly what we can perceive of Paul’s letters is pretty amazing. The John gospel is not bad, combining opaque mystical aura and Galilean detail in a kind of Jewish-messianic meltdown.
Revelations is amazing. Why do you think the church could never get rid of it? Luther couldn’t get rid of it.
Matthew, Luke and Acts are dreary composition by committee or something. The pastoral letters are perfect garbage. So of course Tarico is basically right.
The Hebrew scriptures are another topic; some of the five books is dull, but who expects ritual legislation to be exciting? One of the earliest aesthetic theorists, Ps. Longinus, gives the opening of Genesis as an example of the sublime in literature:
A similar effect was achieved by the lawgiver of the Jews—no mean genius, for he both understood and gave expression to the power of the divinity as it deserved—when he wrote at the very beginning of his laws, and I quote his words: “God said,”—what was it?—”Let there be light, and there was. Let there be earth, and there was.”
What is the chance that Mark was written as sophisticated satire?
Price argues, in his chapter in “The End Of Christianity,” that at some earlier stage the writing may have been advocating the Swoom Theory, and stuff like that (I don’t recall Price’s exact argument, it being nearly twenty years since I read the book). Beyond that, there are some impossible and silly scenarios in Mark’s Gospel. On the silly end, you have the disciples portrayed as morons, for instance, such as when they are clueless as to how Jesus is to solve a problem that is analogous to one he had just solved before with a miracle. It’s a sort of rags to riches story, with a preacher from backwater Nazareth and his band of illiterates who save the world. And there were stories which would have been humorous to an audience of the time, like the idea that Jesus could have been responsible for the temple tantrum pericope, and not have gotten arrested, even though there would have been soldiers there to deal with just such disturbances.
It would be amazing to read it with the eyes, ears and emotions of those it was written for. Perhaps not unlike Sweeny Todd or Oliver Twist of it’s time?
Maybe even a touch of Finnegan’s Wake!
I understand that the bible code has revealed that the author’s name of the canonical bible is translated as Alan Smithee.
Cf. https://500questions.wordpress.com/2015/03/08/63-if-god-can-write-on-a-wall-why-cant-he-write-his-own-bible/ .