I love the bible, particularly the New Testament. I love it in the way I love my slide-rule: I’ve had it for a long time; I enjoy playing with it; I enjoy knowing stuff about it; I like the connection it gives me to an earlier time; and I like the look of it on my shelf.
I don’t, however, think it is very useful. At least, for any particular problem I can imagine it solving, I can think of many other resources that would be better suited to the task. It is a beloved curiosity.
The bible, I think, is a religious book of its time and context. Just a religious book of its time and context. It is no more special in its time and context than the book of Mormon is in its, or the writings of Baha’u’llah, Gurdjieff, or LRH; the Bagavad Gita, the Analects or the Qur’an.
All of which may be deeply profound to some, but all of which would be utterly pointless reads to the average reader arriving at the text unprimed.
The point is, if you actually read the bible without being primed to think it is holy, True (in some sense), important, or special, the text is simply not very impressive. It is tedious, tribal, occasionally uplifting, ludicrous, far fetched, even more tedious, and alienating.
It takes hard work, perhaps sustained by naive enthusiasm, to get much out of the bible. But the same is true of any work of literature, spiritual or fictional or both. If I went back 30 years now, to talk to my former self about what to spend my life studying, I’d be hard pressed to give good reasons to choose the bible over Shakespeare, say, or Bach, or any other cultural artefact. At least those alternatives are easier to derive pleasure from, on a shallow level. I don’t regret the choice I made, I just don’t think I somehow picked perfectly.
Even most Christians barely, if ever, read it of their own volition. Unless guilted into a daily ‘quiet time’, or in the context of a church bible study (and even then it is usually cut into tiny edifying pieces, provided with ample ‘correct answers’ for why they are to find it profound). Most Christians don’t read it because they don’t enjoy it or get much out of it.
Of course there might be a small proportion of exceptions. But if you’ve spent any time with Shakespeare scholars, or (especially perhaps) fans of Joyce, you’ll see the same passion for the subtleties, the same willingness to be moved by the deeper interpretations.
The average person would simply not make it through the bible, and most of the few who did would be utterly baffled at what the fuss is about.
I think those people who claim the bible is some ultimately wonderful book, chock full of important truth and unique in human history are either deluding themselves, or have never seriously read one of its competitors.