Monday, April 20, 2015

Read the Old Testament: Check

It took about five years, but I can finally check off "read the entire Old Testament" off my bucket list.

Given the length of time it took to complete it, this goal clearly wasn't a top priority. (I can only think of one other book that took me longer to read—Little Women. I started it in junior high, picked it up sporadically throughout high school, and then finally started over and gave the book one last try after graduating from college. Incidentally, it is now one of my favorite books. Timing is everything, my friends.)

One of my favorite classes at BYU—possibly the favorite—was the Bible as Literature. We studied the bible from historical and literary perspectives, something you don't get to do much in your typical LDS Sunday School class. To make things even more interesting, Dr. Eliason didn't assign a specific edition for the entire class; instead, he asked us to pick out a couple different versions and base our study on those. (This made read-aloud sessions more fun—it's fascinating how much the translations differ from each other.)

I went a little beyond the minimum book requirement (my checking account wasn't happy about it). But this English major couldn't resist the "prompting" to just buy one more . . .
And just like that, instead of the dry, hard-to-understand text I had previously associated with the bible, I had a book of stories akin to Aesop's Fables or Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tales (although some of the stories are definitely more Grimm.) During that semester, I discovered so many new stories and understood some of my old favorites in deeper, more satisfying ways. Who knew you could learn so much from the line "and Eglon was a very fat man"? Who in this modern era wouldn't enjoy a story about a young woman who pounded a tent peg through her captor's head rather than wait for rescue?

The bible is full of stories like that, and unfortunately we couldn't cover all of them in four short months. Never fear, I told myself, you can read the entire thing on your own time.

Which is what I did, although it wasn't quite the experience I was expecting. Turns out it helps to have a bible expert at your side to provide context. And some of it is about as interesting as an inventory list. Not to mention the stuff that is just plain incomprehensible. (Think Isaiah is hard? Then you haven't tried Ezekiel.)

But you know the phrase "You only get out what you put in"? That is essential to Old Testament scripture study. You can't peruse through it like you would a picture book and wait for knowledge to pop out at you with lots of pretty colors. Those inventory lists, family trees, and detailed laws may not be fun reading, but if you start to think about why they're there, you might learn something anyway. If you're paying attention, you'll find that many of the men and women have personalities—they're real people, not one-dimensional stick figures who exist solely to teach lessons. And most importantly, stories about talking donkeys and whales that swallow humans and large bodies of water that are split in half still have so much relevance to the boring, troubling, and confusing things we deal with every day.

I am by no means an Old Testament expert yet, and I plan to dive back into the book many more times to dig out more treasures.

But for now, on to the New Testament!

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