Sunday, November 26, 2017

Blogging the Spirit: November: As Iron Sharpens Iron

I love this cover but it needs a microscope
As Iron Sharpens Iron: Listening to the Various Voices of Scripture, ed. Julie M. Smith

Laurie at Relevant Obscurity hosts this monthly event!

 I've been reading this intriguing little book that is unlike religion books I've read before.  The editor, Julie M. Smith, explains that she was reading a book on how to make sense of the cultures described in the Old Testament (which is now on my wishlist) and it included a fictional dialogue between Ruth and Ezra about marriage outside the covenant, something Ruth did and Ezra fought against.

They both advocate for their positions with clarity and charity.  There is no "winner" here -- just a wrestle with the complexities...
Smith goes on to wonder if the differing points of view and ideas we find in scripture, and sometimes outright contradictions, are "not a bug but a feature?"  Modern Christians often try to reconcile different accounts to find one 'accurate' story, but maybe that's not the point.  Maybe we should be exploring these differences to find out what they're trying to tell us.  A slightly different example:

In Mark, Jesus and the disciples celebrate Passover and Jesus dies the next day.  In John, Jesus dies at the time when the Passover lambs are being slaughtered.  ...Despite two thousand years of clever attempts to reconcile these accounts, it is simply not possible to do so.  And attempts to ignore, minimize, or deny the difference can cause problems for readers who are left unprepared for future attacks on their faith based on the 'unreliability' of the gospels.  But once it is recognized that the gospel writers had a higher priority than chronology (namely: theology), the differences between the two accounts become not a problem to be solved but an opportunity to be explored.

Smith then invokes Jewish tradition, in which scholars have spent centuries arguing points, arriving at differing and often contradictory conclusions, and then just leaving them all there for future readers to investigate and add to.  She thought she would like to read more of these dialogues between scriptural figures, and so she asked a bunch of people to write some.  The result is this book, a collection of fictional conversations, based on what each person actually wrote.

Job and Abraham discuss the meaning of suffering, sacrifice, and obedience.    Moses and Paul debate the law, while Tamar and King David talk over questions of morality.  Abraham and Thomas talk about doubt, and in Smith's own contribution, Mark and Luke discuss women's portrayals in the gospels and their roles.  Since this is also an LDS book, there are a lot of dialogues featuring voices from LDS scripture and history as well.

It's a neat book to read, and I really like Smith's goal of not forcing things into agreement when we'd be a lot better off realizing that scripture (and life) can be messy, and that's on purpose, and we can learn from it.

2 comments:

Laurie Welch said...

Oh my gosh, I love this concept! I once had a professor who gave us a final exam that had us writing conversations between the various people we studied in class and after all these decades I still remember it. It was a good way to show what each thought on an issue or event in a very creative way.

I like how Smith uses people from the old and new testaments to dialog. And I'd like to know more about what she does with the LDS folks.

(Thank you for your contribution to Blogging the Spirit).

Jean said...

Yeah, it was really neat. Similar things happened with the LDS folks, except that I didn't include the information that there were several cross-scriptural conversations too. But I figured most people haven't heard of the 'extra' LDS-only people.