I’ve been reading some books praised by Ben Spackman. I reviewed one last week, in a way, and I’m on to the next, which has the same title as this post. Below, I borrow some from Amazon.
- When Western readers hear Paul exhorting women to “dress modestly,” we automatically think in terms of sexual modesty. But most women in that culture would never wear racy clothing. The context suggests that Paul is likely more concerned about economic modesty–that Christians not flaunt their wealth through expensive clothes, braided hair and gold jewelry.
- Some readers might assume that Moses married “below himself” because his wife was a dark-skinned Cushite. Actually, Hebrews were the slave race, not the Cushites, who were highly respected. Aaron and Miriam probably thought Moses was being presumptuous by marrying “above himself.”
- Western individualism leads us to assume that Mary and Joseph traveled alone to Bethlehem. What went without saying was that they were likely accompanied by a large entourage of extended family.
- Grace and Faith, as talked about by Paul, probably modeled the Roman Patron system (familiar to us from the movie The Godfather).
One of the best examples of how we misread the scriptures by looking at them through our modern, western lenses, is the story of Moses and Miriam and Aaron when his Cushite wife shows up. Many think of that as a reaction to his having a second wife (other than Jethro’s daughter) or to the fact that by being from Cush she was Black and he was Hebrew (with the implication that by being Black she wasn’t as good).
However, look at how Aaron and Miriam react. It isn’t, “look how he demeans himself” or “look how evil he was as a polygamist” — instead it is “hey, we are just as good as Moses.” In the ancient society Moses was in, the Cushites were much higher status than the Hebrews, the heart of upper Nile civilization and society. Moses was a prince once, and by his marriage to the Cushite wife he creates an image that he is taking up that position again that Miriam and Aaron react against.
The book itself is limited. But the concept, that we read the scripture through a lens of our own culture — and that the people in the Bible lived their lives through a lense of their own culture — and that both of us sometimes miss the gospel and what God wants for us as a result — is worth understanding.
Abraham is not out home teaching. When Deborah the prophet judges Israel for years, she isn’t acting as the backroom counselor for her assumed husband. When Isaiah is a nobel and in the court of the king, he isn’t an outsider. When Jeremiah is a goat herder and God calls him, he really means it when he asks God “why me a nobody?” Sometimes the flaws presented in the text are the flaws that the writers intend to talk about, sometimes what we see as flaws, the authors do not or see as different flaws than we do.
That is a step to seeing the scriptures and learning from them what God intends us to understand.
Questions and thoughts:
- What story in the Bible do you think most people get wrong?
- How often do you notice others reading into the Bible things that are not there from their own backgrounds or thoughts?
- How often do you notice yourself reading things into the Bible?
- When you looked at the four examples from Richards and O’Brien (who wrote the book I’m referencing) did any of them surprise you?
- If you were teaching the Old Testament this year, what is the one cultural mistake “everyone” makes that you would want to correct in how they approach the text?