Monday, June 10, 2013
One Very Short Simplified Version of the Biblical Narrative
by Michael Bogar
God made everything there is, but the focus of the Hebrew story is on humans made in God's image and their lives on the earth. God made humans "in His image, blessed them and gave them the vocation of ruling the earth. But the humans experienced loss and separation from the very first. They hurt themselves and each other as seen in the stories told in Genesis chapters 3-11. So God called two people, Abraham and Sarah, to repair the separation and alienation that filled the earth. God gave Abraham and Sarah a promise--a special land, allowing them to settle and have many children. He made them prosperous (blessed) in order that their prosperity could spread through them to the whole earth, healing the division and alienation on the earth. The reason for giving them the promised land was to allow them to bless the entire earth.
The offspring of Abraham and Sarah, through their son Isaac and grandson Jacob, grew into twelve tribes of people. These twelve tribes eventually came to be named Israel, after their father Jacob had wrestled with God and had his name changed to Israel which means "struggles with God". This would foreshadow the entire biblical narrative as a story of people who wrestled with the meaning of God and a human existence that had so much trouble in it. One of Jacob's sons, named Joseph, ended up in Egypt where he became a very important political administrator under the Pharaoh. At this time, in order to survive a famine, Joseph arranged for his Israelite kin to move to Egypt for food and safety from the famine. This respite turned into a 400 year ordeal, and the Israelites eventually became slaves to the Egyptians. God designated a very important Hebrew named Moses to lead the Israelites back to the land promised to Abraham. On the way back, the Israelites received instructions from the "One True God" about how to build and administrate their new religio-political society with God as the ultimate leader. The Israelites journeyed for forty years, and after Moses died, they were led by Joshua back into the promised land where they settled, gradually growing into a great nation with monarchs leading them. The nation prospered, especially under King David who was a masterful general, benevolent sovereign and cultured poet. He wrote and gathered great literature like the Psalms. His son Solomon carried on this literary tradition, writing and collecting Proverbs and other perceptive literature like Job, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. Solomon, however, was a crafty politician and compromised the monotheism of Moses by making treaties with the many polytheistic tribes and nations around him. These treaties were often sealed with a marriage contract--causing Solomon to have many wives who brought their polytheistic religions with them. The Hebrews became more and more polytheistic and neglected the laws of Moses. The next king, Solomon's son Rheoboam, was very selfish and split the nation in half through his corrupt taxation policies. The northern faction came to be known as The Ten Tribes of Israel, and the southern faction, ruled by Rheoboam, was called Judah, named after the ruling tribe of Judah (one of Jacob's twelve sons) in Jerusalem. The northern Israelite faction was most often seen as polytheistic and errant, while the southern Judahites were most often portrayed as monotheistic and obedient to the ways God had revealed through Moses. These two groups fought incessant civil wars. During this period God sent several prophets to warn Israel and Judah to turn back to the ways of God as delivered by Moses. When they wouldn't listen, God sent foreign powers to discipline His people in order to get them all to reunite in the promised land given to Abraham and Sarah. The prophets brought stiff warnings and judgments, but always closed with promises of renewal and an optimistic future for Israel, Judah and sometimes the entire earth. Eventually the northern Israelites (the ten tribes) were obliterated by a great eastern power called the Assyrians, and the southern Judahites were eventually conquered and taken into captivity by the Babylonians who had conquered the Assyrians. It was during this time (c. 600 BC) that these exiled Judahites began calling themselves the "Jews" (from the word Judah). This is where the "Jews" began to write down their story in what came to be called the Hebrew Bible or Christian Old Testament. Eventually the Persians conquered the Babylonians and allowed the "Jews" to return to their promised land. A small group returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and the temple. The majority of the "Jews", however, scattered throughout modern day Africa, Iran, Turkey and Europe, continuing the new "Jewish" religion that was formed in Babylon by building synagogues where Rabbis taught from the Torah (Hebrew Bible/Old Testament). This tradition would be the root of both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.
Four hundred years passed from the return of the Jews to Jerusalem. At that time a Hebrew teacher named Jesus, who had descended from the line of Abraham/Sarah and David, taught people that the true promised land and lasting prosperity (blessing) arrive through surrender to God as a caring Father. The goal of existence was to love God and your neighbor (every human being). Jesus' life and teachings exemplified that surrender to God and love for all humans, especially the down and out. Jesus revealed that even in the horror of crucifixion one could know peace, joy and the forgiveness of one's enemies. After Jesus’ crucifixion he was resurrected by God and his followers declared that the world was now open to a larger Reality for all people everywhere. They called the arrival of this new Reality by several terms: kingdom of God, kingdom of heaven, eternal life, salvation, etc. In this evolving new creation there was no more separation between male and female, Jew and Gentile, slave and free. God loved all humans equally, and the Jews were to be the conduit of this message, just as it was promised that through Abraham "all of the earth would be blessed".
This message went "viral" when a fellow named Paul had a powerful post-resurrection experience with the Living Christ. Paul felt compelled to take this "gospel" (good news) to the whole world, succeeding in some measure by spreading his message all of the way to Rome. The original twelve disciples of Jesus, like Paul, went to Egypt, Persia, India and to the corners of the known world, teaching that God's sacred Presence was available to all who trusted in Jesus Christ as the first human to achieve the original ideal of "the image of God" by removing all obstacles to that goal. The message was considered unique in that it had the audacity to proclaim that the Divine and human seeds were joined in a human womb, Mary's, to form the first completed Human Being. Those who trusted this message were immersed in water to symbolize their spiritual and psychological union with the living Spirit of Christ. Evidence of this union would result in the psychic experience of release from guilt, fear and death. These would be replaced by an overwhelming desire to practice love for all people.
The last book of the Bible, The Revelation, speaks of an eventual end of this old earth and the creation of a new earth formed out of uncorrupted spiritual matter, populated by those whose consciousness has also been transformed into the image of God through Christ. These people will also have bodies made of pure spiritual matter where there is no more death, decay or disease. Those who remain unconscious and spiritually oblivious will experience obliteration. The biblical story ends in The Revelation as it began in Genesis--with a union of male and female in the Presence of God (Adam and Eve; Christ and the Church).