The Apocrypha wrap-up: Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged
When I started this Bible project in January 2013, I didn’t imagine I’d still be writing and reading about the topic a year and a half later—especially finishing the Bible itself.
One of the many things I learned by reading the Bible is how, contrary to what my preconceived notions about what the good book contains, it embraces a plurality of truths. Rather than put forward one way of looking at the world (as well as Christianity’s own history) and how to live in it, its pages are filled with stories that offer different takes on life. I also expected to have to parse through pages and pages to find minor evidence of such thinking so that I could hold it up as evidence. I never expected (or maybe I did) that such evidence would be so evident. Just read the gospels. So what is to be believed as far as “the truth”? Keeping four different gospels, which tell four different versions of events, suggests that the reader is to decide on his or her own.
I still had questions the Bible couldn’t answer, namely trying to figure out why this complex book is still used to justify anti-gay beliefs. Yes, I get that people point to Romans, but they conveniently manage to ignore other areas (even of the New Testament) that dictate life guidelines (about divorce, for example). So I figured I should keep reading and I bought books people recommended in order to round out my understanding. What better example than a collection of work cut from the Bible?
The moment I heard about the Apocrypha, I became interested: what would cause a work to be excluded?
I can see why “The Book of Baruch” (lot of redundant material covered elsewhere in the Old Testament), “Additions to the Book of Esther” (more redundant material) and “The Prayer of Manasseh” (redundant, again) were cut. But perhaps some readers would have found the way these books portray information to be useful and insightful in ways some canonized Bible books aren’t.
I don’t understand why books such as Tobit and Judith were cut. These narrative-driven books offer useful life lessons as interesting and important as anything found in the Bible. The real shame is if Bible followers never discover them because a group of people deemed them unworthy—or whatever their reasoning was for exclusion.
I get that at some point, people—or a person—must draw a line, indicating how best to represent an idea, or in this case, the spirit and history of a faith. The problem is when those choices are made subjectively, and in the case of the Apocrypha texts, it feels subjective. Why not include them all and let believers decide for themselves what resonates and what is appropriate. If the line was drawn in order to eliminate contradictory texts, then surely more editing must be performed on the Bible—and if so, I’m not sure just how much would be left.
I’m not saying it should; rather, allow more faith in people to learn from historical texts. The real shame is the number of ancient texts that have likely been lost to history because of this (and these type of) decision(s). True understanding arrives when you examine a situation from all sides. Restricting knowledge limits a person’s ability to think and decide what’s appropriate for themselves, and with something as personal as religion, shouldn’t people be encouraged to learn all they can in order to develop a personal connection to their faith, one that makes sense to them? If they did, would as many people still use the Bible to promote anti-gay ideas?
Up Next for the Bible Project: Starting in October I plan to discuss my thoughts on Adam Nicolson’s God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. I’m hoping for an interesting read on the politics of editing such an important text—even if this Bible is not considered “THE” Bible by some.