A Hebrew Bible/Old Testament scholar looks at the Bible and culture…

Claims about the Bible Work Best if You Don't Actually Read It

Last weekend, two biblical scholar friends and I visited the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and spent time in an exhibit entitled “Shrunken Treasures:  Miniaturization in Books and Art.” It features tiny books and objects from the museum’s permanent collection.


In case after case, we saw all things small.  There were small mosaics, small sculptures, small shipping guides, but mostly small religious texts.  Small Psalters.  Small Qurans.  And small Bibles.

Some of these minatures were functional, actually used by readers even before the days of bifocals. They allowed people to have words that were portable and private– pocket editions.

But many were clearly too small to be read.  It’s hard to imagine how they were even produced.  These texts weren’t reading material; they functioned atropaically–as amulets , talismans, good luck pieces.  These Bibles were owned, touched, tucked away, treasured.  But not read. The idea of the Bible mattered more than its content.

From my vantage point, that attitude toward the Bible is ubiquitous, even for folks whose Bibles are big.  A lot of verbage gets thrown around about the Bible  (its perfection, its authority, its goodness) that makes sense only if you don’t read it–or read it seriously.  I’m a firm believer that you shouldn’t say something about the Bible that isn’t true about all of it.  If you’re going to talk about the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice, then you should be prepared to explain why you don’t live your life by all of it.

I spend my energies trying to get people to spend less time spouting claims about the Bible and more time actually reading it, being honest about it, and valuing it for what it actually is.

The exhibit runs through Nov. 8, 2009.


4 Responses to Claims about the Bible Work Best if You Don't Actually Read It

  • Thanks for sharing this! I probably won’t get the time to go to Baltimore to see this, but I DO have a teeny Bible at home – I think it’s just the Gospels, and it’s only one inch high. Quite fascinating really!

    I also agree with your comments, and this can extend to memorization – memorizing passages in the Bible is OK, and many of us were taught to do this when we were kids, but it’s not as important as understanding what the Bible actually means, or understanding it in the historical context that it was written in. You do an excellent job of teaching this and getting people to understand the history in the text.

  • The last comment made me think of watching Shaq vs Michael Phelps last night. Phelps calls Shaq out in the locker room to recall one of Phelps race times, and Shaq replies (surprisingly quickly) with a quote he attributes to Einstein. “Never memorize what you can look up in books” I believe it was.

  • Absolutely, Julia — I share your commitment.

  • Julia:

    I agree entirely. If you check out my blog (click my name) you will see I have been working through such issues with my intro to Christian Scriptures class at Baylor. They are beginning to come around and be open to alternative perspectives, but it has taken time and great care. Ultimately, though, I agree with your final statement entirely.

    How’s that cheeseburger, my friends? I always love that one.

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