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The Bible – Old Testament

Title: The Bible
Part: Old Testament
Author: Various
Translator: Bibelkommissionen (1973-2000)
Year: 12th century BC – 2nd century BC

Having read the Koran, I moved on to reading the Bible. Admittedly, I had begun with the Old Testament earlier than that, but after losing my copy of the text, I had to borrow another from a friend before continuing. It took me roughly two months (not including breaks) to read the Old Testament and about one month to listen to an audio version of the New Testament. My impressions are mixed, but in general, it has been fairly tiresome, but not without glimpses of light. Large parts of the Old Testament are extremely boring, but on the whole, the text can at least be said to be rewarding in some ways. Occasionally, it is beautiful and inspiring.

I have decided to review the Bible in two posts, because the two parts are very different indeed. This review covers the Old Testament.

It surprised me at first how little space the stories I knew beforehand required. I always imagined that they were shorter versions of longer stories, but most of the tales I was familiar with from the Old Testament were from Genesis and Exodus. These stories are action packed and on every page some momentous event takes place. This is entertaining and interesting, thumbs up. However, the pace slows down drastically after Genesis and the text falls into a very dark abyss of repetitive instructions about rituals and sacrifice. This is boring beyond words. Spending six pages describing how to handle various kinds of leprosy simply is not a good read. Also, way too many words are spent on meticulous detail. How broad was the Ark? How many soldiers did king so and so have? What was the exact sequence of battles in this war? This dwelling on detail kills all enthusiasm and interest for the actual content of the stories told.

This improves after a while, when shorter, more concise books make their appearance. Some of them return to the ruminative style described above, detailing the conquests of kings. Others, such as Ecclesiastes, Job and Sirach, are more poetical and at times even beautiful. Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most interesting of the three. Without these books, the Old Testament would have been unbearable. In themselves, they are not brilliant, but they are still good enough to significantly raise the average level of all the books.

As for the actual content of the Old Testament, it is mostly abominable. As in the Koran, it is often just a matter of defining “us” (i.e. those who believe in god, god’s people and so forth) and stating what will happen to “them” (i.e. those who do not believe in god, the heathens). Genocide, murder of innocent civilians, sacking and razing of cities all seem to be acceptable as long as they are done in the name of god. The part where the Israelites have spared the lives of women and children in an enemy city, but is ordered to return to kill all of them, as was god’s original instruction, makes me extremely puzzled. I see nothing at all in this that would constitute a healthy foundation for any world view whatsoever. To make any sense today, most such reference to the Old Testament would have to be very, very symbolic indeed. The focus on subordination also makes me feel a bit queasy.

To summarise, I dislike the Old Testament for the same reasons that I disliked the Koran. The style is much too repetitive, dwells too much on detail and depicts boring events (war, building of temples, rituals). Still, parts of the Old Testament are worthwhile on their own, either for the content or fer the form. Regardless of all this, I still believe it was a good idea to read the Bible, if for nothing else, then to better understand the parts of Western culture derived from it. Hopefully, I will be able to post my review of the New Testament tomorrow, stay tuned.