Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Books of the Bible

A little bible visualization (see more impressive previous ones here and here). I’ve seen quite a few versions of this image before: the bible as a bookshelf rather than a single work. I remember drawing my own version in religious education lessons at school. Sabio put one on his blog, and there are quite a few more if you do a google image search. But though many of them make a nod towards having the Pentateuch be bigger, say, than the minor prophets, I hadn’t seen any that tried to make the books in scale. 25 minutes of programming and here’s the result:

The Books of the Protestant Bible, To Scale - The books are color-coded based on their traditional Christian classification. Note that this does not reflect the ways Jews would classify the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament).

The design of the books, incidentally, is based on the O’Reilly books: the iconic programmers books. The size of the book is such that the volume of the book (pages x page area) corresponds to the size of the biblical book, except for very small books, where the binding would be too small to support the title. Of course, you can’t see the depth of the books in this view, so there’s a dimension you are missing, but hey — its close enough for government work. That the titles of some books are unreadable is not unintentional – there are better versions of this image to work from if you’re trying to learn the books!

You may use this image under a Creative Commons Attribution License, 3.0, US. The attribution I require is leaving the ‘2012’) message intact somewhere on the image.


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The Many Jesi

This is really a response to Sabio’s post here, but I’m responding here because I want to include an image.

Sabio is responding to someone who is claiming that one can challenge the religious right’s use of Jesus by appealing to the Jesus of the New Testament. He rightly says that there is no ‘Jesus of the New Testament’ – there are many of them. And he is right to say that the historical Jesus (the facts about Jesus we can be reasonably confident in as historians) are very few indeed.

I’ve been banging the drum for a better public understanding of the diversity of content in the bible for some time. So this is right up my alley.

But it strikes me that the two arguments pass in the night. It is both true that there is a diversity of concepts of Jesus in the NT, that the historical Jesus (HJ) is very minimal, and that one can argue that the religious right have Jesus all wrong. And I think the route of the mismatch is in understanding that the historical Jesus is not the same as the consensus Jesus of the NT. The gospel writers do agree on quite a lot about who Jesus was, what was important to him, and what he did. Historically much of this is dubious, a lot of it downright absurd, but that’s beside the point, I think. If you grant that the bible is authoritative in some sense, then even though you acknowledge its diversity, you can ask of it: does it have a consensus on this issue? And if it does, then one would presumably want to be able to mobilise that consensus as clear teaching from that authority.


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The Two Afterlives

Its been a tough week here, we lost a close family member, and have been struggling to emerge from the weight of the situation.

This weekend was the first stage, hopefully, in coming to terms. We attended the funeral, which was excellent. Very positive, very celebratory. It was highly, highly Christian. And everyone, I think, appreciated that it reflected the character of her very strong and frank faith quite authentically. I certainly did, and would not have wanted it any other way.

So, for the few of you who know me or our family, be assured this is not critical.

But this is a blog about religion and the bible, and the way life is complex and right and full of compromises.

There are, broadly speaking, two sets of stories about what happens when you die in the Christianity I’m familiar with.

The first is the ‘heaven’ story: when you die you go to heaven to live – you get given your own mansion in heaven, you meet all those who’ve died before you, you get to finally meet God face to face, and you can ‘look down’ in appreciation on those left behind: watching over the family members who try to honor your memory.

The second is the ‘sleep’ story: when you die your body goes back to the earth, and there you lie, your soul at rest. At some point in the future, Jesus will return to the earth, and the dead will rise again from the earth with new bodies. God will create a new heaven and a new earth, and will come down and make his permanent home on the new Earth in a great city (the new Jerusalem) with the believers.

Both these threads are there in the NT, to a greater or lesser extent. The second is perhaps nearer to the theology of Paul, say, and the first to the writer of Revelation*.

What was interesting about this weekend, was the way the family and church had completely opted for the first story. That was the model which guided all discussion and all the messages preached at the services. But the bible verses quoted were specifically those of the second. So we had the famous 1 Thess 4 reading, surely the epitome of sleep-story references, immediately followed by the pastor saying (I paraphrase) – “yes, as the reading says, X is now in heaven with Jesus”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, a harrowing situation like this is *not* the time to be worried about consistency in theology. If religion has any use it is in times like this, when the *effect* of the words are far more important than their logic. But I did find it interesting and curious.

I wondered to my wife beforehand which story they’d go with, being a family that is quite evangelical (and conservative evangelicalism is the context I’ve come across the second story in, the first is much more culturally common here). The little corner of my brain still engaged as a biblical geek (which, it must be said, was a tiny fraction that day), found it an interesting compromise.

At some point, I think it would be interesting to think and write something about religion and rites of passage, particularly in how we deal with death. But now’s not the right time, now’s the time to comment briefly and focus on rebuilding our family.

* For clarity: I don’t mean to suggest either story is a fair portrayal of Paul or John’s theology of death, or that either is a ‘good’ exegetical story at all. Just that, if you wanted to quote-mine the NT for support, you would probably want to start in Paul for the sleep story and Revelation (or the gospels) for the heaven story.


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