Friday, July 10, 2020

54. The Story Behind the Bible: The Torah (NOT Recommended)

The Story Behind the Bible: The Torah. J K Alexander 2013/2019. 204 pages. [Source: Review copy]

About the star rating: It doesn't even deserve a tenth of one star.

First sentence from the introduction: This book is a product of more than twenty-five years of private, biblical, philosophical, historical, and archeological study. The intended purpose of the book is to offer a quick, condensed read that can provide a rich, well-developed background, perspective, and understanding of the biblical scriptures. The hope is that the information herein will help biblical scholars of all levels read the Bible with a greater sense of reality, historicity, and relevance that will, in essence, make the biblical experience a bit more like really being there.

I have a couple of analogies I'd like to bring up right at the start. (Maybe imagery is the better word?)

The first involves clocks. A stopped clock is right twice a day. It is unintentional on the clock's part, for sure, but there you have it, right twice a day regardless of its brokenness. A clock that is running, however, that is set to the wrong time, is always wrong all the time. Sometimes there's a reason behind it. (For example, a clock that is difficult to set or hard to reach might not get switched when the time changes. It might be right half the year but off an hour the rest of the year.) At first I was hopeful that this might be a case of the stopped clock variety. A theology book that was off but still managed to get a few things right at least. That way it could at least earn one star fairly and accurately and not by default. But the more I read the more it seemed to go the clock that is only reliable in the fact that it's always wrong.

The second involves cartoon characters and a cliff. You know how a cartoon character runs--sometimes walks--off a cliff and is the absolute last to know?! The viewer sees it happening on the screen, but, the fall inevitably comes. I don't think the author-as-cartoon-character knows he's walked off the cliff and is due to plummet and crash.

The third involves the Twilight Zone. Theology books should not make readers feel like they're entering the Twilight Zone. Mystery novels, dystopias, horror--yes, the Twilight Zone feels aren't out of place and inappropriate. Often when I say a book reads like an episode of the Twilight Zone I mean it in a complementary, positive way. Not so this time.

So when I saw the book listed on Netgalley, my first impulse was yes, please. I didn't read a description. I didn't read previous reviews. I didn't do research on the author or the publisher. I thought Story. Bible. It will either be a) a summary of the big picture story of the Bible to help believers fit the books of the Bible into a picture so they can understand how things fit together or b) it will be a book about how the Bible came to be the Bible, how the canon was formed, how it was translated, how it was preserved. It was neither. Sadly. I am sincere when I say sadly. I don't take joy in finding bad theology.

This is the first book in the trilogy. At the time I'm writing this review, I've completely finished the first book on the Torah and I'm about a third of the way through the second book.

The book claims to be a "primer" or "introduction" to reading and studying the Bible, in the case of the first book, the first five books, The Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. There are chapters titled for each of these books of the Bible. One would guess that the chapters would seek to summarize or provide commentary on the actual Bible. And to be fair, he picks a handful of verses from a handful of chapters to dissect. But it's more commentary via The Twilight Zone than actual actual commentary.

His stated goal is, "to put the readers back into the story as if they are reading their own family history with memories, clear mental images, and a sense of historical authenticity to draw upon as they read and study."

There are no red alerts going off in the introduction. There are some faint and distant yellow alerts going off perhaps. He hints that the content will be controversial and that some might disagree with his opinions, interpretations, and perspectives.

The first hint of slight trouble is his embracing of the gap theory. Now he is not the first to suggest such a gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. I have read some commentaries of Genesis that support such a gap theory though they leave the what happened and how long it was completely mysterious and off limits. It's like, there may be a gap of a million years or so, but we don't know what happened and why it happened and there's nothing more that can really be said. It's a theory. We just don't know and it's not that important. It's easy to say okay, let's move on. So long as the commentator goes on to present a biblical view of the creation of man, the fall of mankind, the rest of the book, then it's okay to say, I may not agree 100% with his interpretation of every single little verse, but for the most part it's sound enough and not dangerous. Alexander seems to make this time of the gap much more significant and relevant and everything than it has any right to be. It's almost like come get initiated into this secret gnostic group and be in the know about what happened. You will know something that 99% of all Christians throughout the millennium have missed out on.

It doesn't get less weird. It's like falling down a rabbit hole into wonderland and the author is coaxing readers to eat and drink.

  • Apparently, Jeremiah wrote of this gap. His vision (which I won't link chapter and verse) wasn't about the future but about the past.) 
  • Apparently, Adam and Eve weren't the first and only humans created, the parents of us all; just the priest and priestess; the others toiled the ground and kept the garden.
  • Apparently, the fall of mankind didn't happen for a hundred years after creation. (Like how does he know this and support it?)
  • Apparently, Cain wasn't the son of Adam. Jesus was in the know and gave a veiled hint in his teachings. (He promises a chapter about this in book three.)
  • Apparently Leviticus is the most important book in the Torah because of the hidden acrostics within.

At the end of his summary of Genesis, he writes, "I don't expect anyone to agree with all my science, theology, imagery, or historical perspective. The real goal is to get people to read and study the Scriptures themselves with an ability to stay on track, not lose the forest for the trees, and rightly divide what is written." 

(Does he get how that statement is so ironic given what follows?!?!?!)

So there are a couple of long passages later in the book that seem all red alert all the time...or should.
I would hope that all actual, genuine Bible-believing, Bible-reading, God-affirming believers would see the ideas and recognize them for what they are. RUN FAR, RUN FAST.
All you hear these days it sometimes seems is doom and gloom and how far we've strayed. The informed Judeo-Christian or Messianic Jew really can't be bothered too much by this because he or she knows that on some level God is having a great time and enjoying everything, more or less. How do we know this? Because the God of the Bible created all things for His pleasure, and God, Yah, the Almighty, is not one who does not get what he wants. A little setback here, a minor disappointment there doesn't worry or bother Him at all. He fully expects these and considers it equitable trade for the surprises, delights, victories, accomplishment, and, yes, the genuine love, faith, and reverence that sharing these things with us and the gift of free will engenders. God is having a great time, Scripture assures us, because that is what He does, so don't be downtrodden. Things aren't nearly as bad as the princes of this world would make them out. In fact, things are not bad at all. We are moving steadily and ever closer to exactly where Yah wants us to be. That should be an encouraging thought.
I would like to say here that the sections on God's nature are in no way meant to imply that I am closer to, have a better relationship with, or even a better understanding of God. I can only impart to you what the Scriptures say about Him if you know how to look....Is God Unchanging? The short answer to this question is is yes; however, though God can make even the most profound knowledge and concepts seem simple, nothing about God is simplistic. Yes, he is the same essence yesterday, today, and forever. What most people overlook is that possibly the most clearly defined aspect of God's eternal unchanging nature is that He loves perpetual change. This is abundantly clear in Scripture and throughout creation. And by the way, if you are reading Scripture but not reading nature, His creation, you're only reading half the book. You're going to miss key elements and possibly the entire alchemy...It is very frustrating to me when people, especially people of "faith," use God's unchanging essence as an excuse for rigidity, dogma, legalism, and other forms of stagnation and oppression. Scripture declares that God created all things for His pleasure and things that grow and change and are full of surprises that are infinitely more pleasing than things that are predictable, changeless, motionless, unyielding, and stagnant. So please don't ever even consider the erroneous notion that God is some eternally grim force trying to restrict all things to a predetermined definition of righteousness. Nothing could be more wrong. My friends, look around you. Read the other half of the book. God is the free Spirit of all free spirits. I assure you He can and does think a thousand times farther out of the box than the most secular Warhol-worshiping weirdo walking the planet.
The dominant and obvious thrust of the whole book is that all things being equal, He is totally flexible and much prefers that we make our own decisions and do our own thing. Yes, that the is preeminent lesson of the Torah.
Long, long ago, it seems God decided that far more important than righteousness is freedom. Freedom is everything to God, because without it there can be no genuine love, faith, joy, courage, or righteousness, all things that He wants around Him in abundance. And again, from God's point of view, every intervention and every controlled outcome chisels away at that most awesome of all His gifts, freedom. This is why it rains and shines on the just and the unjust alike. It is why some good men fall while the wicked prosper and innocent children have fatal accidents. There is a fine line between guidance and coercion, and God has established that line well on the side of freedom and non-interference so there can be no mistake that when a man chooses for good or ill, it is of his own free will. Naturally, God controls the broad stream of history and will bring our collective destiny to a successful fulfillment according to His will, but the Bible indicates that He will accomplish this by dealing with a few key players on the stage of history and a few miraculous interventions for all to see. But life will go on, and we will still have our homes, families, friends, and other responsibilities while God takes care of His. Keeping track of the minutia of our lives is just not His job.
According to the Bible, God has it covered but is not in direct control of our individual destiny. We are. That is His great gift to us. All this being said, the Scriptures do affirm that the Holy Spirit is sensitive to and able to touch us all in times of great need or times of great joy. And for those who are true men and women of faith, the Spirit is permanently attached and dwells within.
Have you been reading the quotes?!?! Prepare yourself.

What I am suggesting here is that we should stay to the God of Scripture and not make God up as we go along to suit our perceived needs and desires. Of one thing I am totally convinced. God is not a fictional character who only lives in the pages of the Bible.
If he hasn't been making up God to suit his own need and desire, what has he been doing?!?!?!?!

I haven't quoted much Scripture in this book, because this book is not about the text itself but the underlying themes.
So the themes of the Bible--the underlying themes aren't found in the Scripture itself. Interesting.

Overall, I would say that this book isn't helpful as a primer for learning the contents of the Bible, learning the themes, understanding how God and man relate to one another. In fact, I would say it is distinctly UNhelpful in that it will give readers all the wrong ideas about God's relationship with man and man's relationship with God. One of the big themes of the Torah, if you know actually actually read the text of the Sacred Scripture, is SIN and man's need for atonement and reconciliation. Most of the books, especially Exodus through Deuteronomy focus on a sacrificial mediation, man is NOT right with God, man is a sinning sinner that needs the blood of a sacrifice to be cleansed. From Genesis 3 on what readers find in the Bible is the undeniable fact of sin and God's displeasure with sin.

I would also say this book is illogical. What I mean is that you could take a paragraph of what he says in one place, skip ahead or turn back and find another paragraph that contradicts. Some of the ideas he holds if truly held to be equally true would cause one's head to explode. It's just not possible to believe every single thing he's said in this one to be true truth.

I also notice that he'll take a few grains of truth and then adulterate it mightily so that it's so jumbled and twisted and just all out wrong.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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