A biblical experiment.

The Telegraph reports an interesting list of the most disturbing passages from the Bible, as compiled in a light-hearted project entitled “Chapter and Worse” at the Christian site Ship of Fools.

Here’s the list, in case you’re curious:

No. 1: St Paul’s advice about whether women are allowed to teach men in church:

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” (1 Timothy 2:12)

No. 2: In this verse, Samuel, one of the early leaders of Israel, orders genocide against a neighbouring people:

“This is what the Lord Almighty says… ‘Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” (1 Samuel 15:3)

No. 3: A command of Moses:

“Do not allow a sorceress to live.” (Exodus 22:18)

No. 4: The ending of Psalm 137, a psalm which was made into a disco calypso hit by Boney M, is often omitted from readings in church:

“Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us – he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” (Psalm 137:9)

No. 5: Another blood-curdling tale from the Book of Judges, where an Israelite man is trapped in a house by a hostile crowd, and sends out his concubine to placate them:

“So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the threshold. He said to her, ‘Get up; let’s go.’ But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his donkey and set out for home.” (Judges 19:25-28)

No. 6: St Paul condemns homosexuality in the opening chapter of the Book of Romans:

“In the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:27)

No. 7: In this story from the Book of Judges, an Israelite leader, Jephthah, makes a rash vow to God, which has to be carried out:

“And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt-offering.’ Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, ‘Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.’” (Judges 11:30-1, 34-5)

No. 8: The Lord is speaking to Abraham in this story where God commands him to sacrifice his son:

‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt-offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.’ (Genesis 22:2)

No. 9: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22)

No. 10: “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the cruel.” (1 Peter 2:18)

There’s lots of stuff like this, of course, and often these are ignored in favour of passages more compatible with one’s existing views (or, more disturbingly, these may be invoked for the same reason). The point is that it is difficult to know which parts of the Bible to take as literal rules about how to live, which are metaphors, and which are, at best, outdated notions that society has rightly long rejected. But what would happen if you tried to actually live the Bible literally today?

As it happens, this little experiment has been tried by best-selling author and editor of Esquire magazine, A.J. Jacobs. He describes his trials and tribulations (and new insights) during a year of following every rule in the Bible that he can in his book The Year of Living Biblically. (Obviously some parts, like the stoning of adulterers, had to be handled in a diplomatic way).

I happened to grab the book at an airport bookstore as I thought it might be interesting — and indeed it was. It’s not nearly as irreverent as one might expect — in fact, he makes a significant effort to understand those who live by (some) Biblical rules all the time, and to derive what lessons he can from his experience.

Recommended, regardless of where you stand on religion.


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