Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Bible as Journal

It occurred to me this morning to look at the Bible as a series of journal entries.  I was originally going to qualify that as "parts of the Bible that aren't letters" - but haven't you ever recorded a letter you'd written in your journal, so that you'd have it to look at later?  Or written a letter you'd like to send, but didn't? So - the Bible as Journal.

I began thinking about this this morning. I was reading Mark 2:2-28 and hearing three distinct stories or entries: a recollection of Jesus at home in Capernaum with so many people there to listen to him that there wasn't even standing room left out in front of the house; one of Jesus going out to the seaside and teaching as he went; and a story about going through the grain fields on the sabbath.

I think one of the troubles people get into with the Bible - let's single out the New Testament for this - is trying to reconcile all the books into one coherent storyline; as if told in one piece, in chronological order and sometimes as having been written by only five authors - Matthew, Mark, Luke, John & Paul. Biblical scholars have long since debunked the 5-author theory - there are just too many "voices" in each area to have been written by one person alone, and too much evidence that many of the stories were written before or after certain events - testifying to their authorship a hundred or more years after their occurrence. We also know that the hands - and opinions - of many editors and redactors touched each story and sometimes corrected or changed the translation, an interpretation - or in places completely re-wrote or added their own thoughts. The canon has been gathered and selected from scrolls and papyri, with many stories and even entire books left out, such as the books of the Apocrypha, a collection known as the Nag Hammadi manuscripts, and the Dead Sea Scrolls; but I'll leave canonical selection for another time. For now, lets look at the stories and letters that made it into the Official Book, and see if we can view it from a new angle. Again - the Bible as journal.

There is a book I've read (at least in part... I like to think "mostly" but probably not), called, The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. It's a collection of diary entries by a disciple who sat at the feet of Sri Ramakrishna (who I believe I've mentioned before) and recorded whatever he'd heard and seen each day and night. So it's a verified personal account of someone who was there and wrote it all down - who journaled his experiences. And there are photographs in it - photography was young but good enough to capture the guru and his disciples. Can you imagine? To sit at the feet of Ramakrishna - or the Buddha - or Jesus. To watch, listen and absorb everything you can and then write it down in your journal each night before going to sleep. And to see photographs - photographs of Jesus, teaching his followers! How amazing it would have been.

When I read the gospels, Acts, non-canonical books, I can imagine the author scribbling in a diary or on a piece of papyrus or cloth after a day of listening to Jesus - or many years later, to one who followed Him... or a student of that person, years or even generations down the line... attempting to capture as much as s/he heard or witnessed, so that others who weren't there could learn of and from what happened, so many more years later. But what it really does is give me a way to imagine myself sitting at Jesus' feet on a quiet hillside or following behind him in a crowd trying to catch up, as he walks and teaches by the Sea of Galilee... to be one of the people trying to remember all that is said and done, and to commit it to writing for those who come after me. What an amazing thing.

The books of the Bible - and the letters as well - were written, re-written and collected over many hundred years; they've been sorted, re-organized and winnowed, translated, edited and re-translated... and then stitched into something like a coherent story, to try and patch together an experience of being there with Jesus when he spoke and healed and worked miracles. How much has gotten lost in translation or hasn't even been discovered? And yet, how amazing it is to have this collection... a gathering of writings, letters and stories recorded over the years and through different generations... that tries to bring us closer to a man who was a mystery and a miracle himself. Are there errors? Of course - some of these stories were recorded by disciples and students of students of Jesus, in an attempt to record a story they'd heard about what the Rabbi might have been trying to say. Have things been left out? How not, when the oldest books are nearly 2,000 years old and much was passed down through oral tradition? But think of it as diary entries recording what Jesus taught, preached and did, passed down from those who were there to others, in the hope of imparting wisdom, of reaching down through the centuries to share what it was like. A collection from so many journals, stitched together to bring the Word of God - the story of Love, Charity, Sacrifice, of Healing, Justice and Hope - here and now to our ears. /11/19/14

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