Dueling Testaments

Discussion in 'Spirituality & Religion' started by Dr. Wankler, Apr 21, 2006.

  1. Dr. Wankler

    Dr. Wankler Member+

    May 2, 2001
    The Electric City
    Club:
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    Literary critic Harold Bloom has a new book called Jesus and Yahweh, under review here. One of the claims is that, in terms of literary quality, the New Testament just doesn't hold up with the Hebrew Bible.

    http://www.claremont.org/writings/crb/spring2006/balint.html

    "The aesthetic dignity of the Hebrew Bible," Bloom writes, "is simply beyond the competitive range of the New Testament…. In the aesthetic warfare between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, there is just no contest." (Bloom had already told us in A Map of Misreading [1975] that he preferred the Hebrew Bible to Homer.)

    This in itself is not a new observation. Nietzsche declared: "To have glued this New Testament, a kind of rococo of taste in every respect, on to the Old Testament to make one book, as the 'Bible,' as 'the book par excellence'—that is perhaps the greatest audacity and 'sin against the spirit' that literary Europe has on its conscience."

    But the idea, at least in its elaborated form, is new in Bloom, and it brings us to the book's second revelation: his attitude toward Christianity. In a delightful 1979 essay, Cynthia Ozick accused Bloom, the self-proclaimed Gnostic Jew, of "idol-making," and of "artistic anti-Judaism." But in his latest book, Bloom evinces both a surprising Jewishness—"my Orthodox Judaic childhood lingers in me as an awe of Yahweh"--and a startling anti-Christianity. If Jesus and Yahweh is right, Christians misread not only Yahweh, but Jesus, too—and they are polytheists to boot.

    Beyond the fact that the historical Jesus was "the Jew-of-Jews, the Jew proper," he remains unknowable beneath the seven irreconcilable versions of him presented in the New Testament; he is "a concave mirror, where what we see are all the distortions each of us has become." Bloom reminds us that "there are no verifiable facts about Jesus of Nazareth…. There is not a sentence concerning Jesus in the entire New Testament composed by anyone who ever had met the unwilling King of the Jews." This did not prevent Christians from turning him into a theological entity: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is according to Bloom "totally smothered beneath the massive superstructure of historical theology."

    Bloom interprets the trinity as an essentially polytheistic "structure of anxiety" in which God the Father—whom Bloom finds "lacking in personality"—is a mere shade of Yahweh. Yahweh, "the West's major literary, spiritual, and ideological character," has not, according to Bloom, "survived in Christianity." In J's portrait—the earliest biblical layer—Yahweh is "anxious, pugnacious, aggressive, ambivalent," not to mention all too often absent. But unlike Jesus Christ and God the Father, he is emphatically not a theological God. Indeed, Bloom asserts that "no God has been more human."
     
  2. royalstilton

    royalstilton New Member

    Aug 2, 2004
    SoCal
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    wow. a literary critic doesn't like the NT as literature. well, golly, Dr. Bloom. maybe the problem here is that you are unclear on the concept.

    the NT is:

    a). 4 gospels, each having a different focus, none of which are intended to be literary works.
    b). a history of the early church, written by an educated man, but history, not literature.
    c). a series of letters, written by a Jew to gentile churches he founded, each one having a specific purpose, again not literature.
    d). pastoral epistles written by the same man to a small coterie of fellow ministers of the gospel, setting guidelines for conduct within the church, exhortative writing, not intended as literature.
    e). two letters by Peter to Jewish Christians. these letters were written by a fisherman to people he was largely unacquainted with. ( i'd like to see some of your letters, Doc. )
    f). a very weighty letter, author unknown, written to Jewish Christians, touching on the superiority of the Messiah, Jesus, to the previous covenant, etc.
    g). the epistles of John, a man with a very limited education.
    h). the Revelation to John by Jesus of things escatological.
    i). Jude and Philemon, movies not in the offing.

    it's too bad that the writers of the NT didn't understand that some bright guy would take them to task for their lack of literary skill, 2000 years after the fact.

    hey, Doc, let's see what 2000 years does to your visionary book.
     
  3. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes Member+

    May 12, 2003
    Berkeley, CA
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    For the majority of people on earth, the New Testament is only valuable or interesting as a work of literature.
     
  4. christopher d

    christopher d New Member

    Jun 11, 2002
    Weehawken, NJ
    Nah, that was just a late addition by the editor. The publisher was scared it wouldn't make sales marks if it didn't have a good v. evil plot twist.
     
  5. needs

    needs Member

    Jan 16, 2003
    Brooklyn
    I'm pretty sure that Harold Bloom, whatever you may think of his scholarship and argument, is familiar with the concept and structure of the New Testament. That seems a critique of his argument that holds little water.

    I would be interested in hearing discussion by folks on here of the literary merits of the NT vs. the OT.
     
  6. christopher d

    christopher d New Member

    Jun 11, 2002
    Weehawken, NJ
    Would it be more salient then to consider that the two "works" are of entirely different epochs?

    Perhaps that his "Yahweh" and his "God the Father", abstracted from the centuries' gap in writing, must be looked at in historical context, and that a certain evolutionary progression must be inferred?

    As to your point, I'm not sure any of us without both a significant Biblical and LitCrit background are qualified to compare and contrast Old and New Testaments. I find the OT to alternately provide thrilling mythology and over-the-top didacticism, and the NT to be alternately comforting and obnoxiously didactic. But do re-read the caveat before you hit the "source, please" button. :)
     
  7. royalstilton

    royalstilton New Member

    Aug 2, 2004
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    ---
    not really.

    the NT is priceless. it explains, better than the OT, how to have a life that is more meaningful than most people can imagine. but there is a catch. the only way you can understand that is if you believe that it is or contains Truth, not literature.
     
  8. #10 Jersey

    #10 Jersey Member

    May 2, 1999
    um...can you explain this? The OT (as you call it) is absolutely a recipe for how to live a meaningful life.
     
  9. argentine soccer fan

    Staff Member

    Jan 18, 2001
    San Francisco Bay Area
    Club:
    CA Boca Juniors
    Nat'l Team:
    Argentina
    The Old Testament rules. It tells us about Life, the Universe, and Everything. As a literary work, I would definitely rank it ahead of the Hitchikers guide to the Galaxy.
     
  10. spejic

    spejic Cautionary example

    Mar 1, 1999
    San Rafael, CA
    Club:
    San Jose Earthquakes
    You are both wrong.
     
  11. #10 Jersey

    #10 Jersey Member

    May 2, 1999
    I wouldn't expect different from a Boca Fan :)

    At least we'll be on the same side in June..
     
  12. argentine soccer fan

    Staff Member

    Jan 18, 2001
    San Francisco Bay Area
    Club:
    CA Boca Juniors
    Nat'l Team:
    Argentina

    Let me guess. Argentino, pero gayina? :D

    As far as my last post, it was the first thing that came to mind. A bit fatecious for the topic, but I thought it was somewhat clever. If you read the HGTTG you can see the connection, but I did mean to make a more serious post later. I want to say something like this;

    I really think it is dumb to try to compare the 'literary worth' of the OT and NT, they are such different animals. The OT obviously is a much richer work in that it spans so many centuries, and includes so much more, as well as giving us a window into the ancient world in the middle east.

    Lets look at the old testament:

    It's got poetry (Psalms), I's got some neat short stories (Ruth, Esther), Law (Penthateuc), It's got lots of history (Really, an attempt to cover history from the begining of time until the time of the Jews reconquering of Palestine during the time of the Persian empire, and (if we include Maccabees) we also get an interesting window into the culture clash that took place at the time of the Hellenization of the middle east. It also has philosophy (Job, Eclessiastes), It's even got a book on self-help (Proverbs), It's got romance (Song of Solomon). And it has what I think is an interesting insight into the political situation of Israel, as the prophets seemed to be some sort of early day dissenters who attempted to curbe the power of the monarchy by appealing to the Supernatural. And of course, one common thread thoughout this diverse collection might be the attempt to use God and the Supernatural to understand our human condition.

    There is no way the New Testament can be compared to that, because it just isn't all that. It is much shorter, the work of fewer people, all living practically during the same time period and in a world much more homogeneous culturally due to the colonization of the Roman Empire. (There are some differences between the Jewish authors and the more Helenized/Romanized ones, but not nearly as much diversity.
    The richness of the NT, I think, is in the moral code of Jesus, (passages like The Sermon of the Mount for example), and from a historical perspective, because it gives us a historical window into the beggining of the rise of one of the world's powerful religions, as well as insight into its doctrine.

    It is impossible to rank these works as one might rank those of Shakespeare over those of Marlowe, for example, because we are talking about two completely different things. (Other than the fact that the NT is in some ways derived from the OT)

    Obviously, there is going to be a lot more meaning in these books for those who believe the Bible to be God's inspired word. It will have different meaning for Jews, Christians or any other religious people who look at some or all of the Bible from a religious perspective. I don't mean to ignore that aspect of it, but I am trying to look at it just from a literature point of view, as a response to the way Mr. Bloom looked at it. I don't think he can be taken seriously because he is comparing two collections of work that are not comparable at all.
     
  13. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes Member+

    May 12, 2003
    Berkeley, CA
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    ...and, as I said, the majority of people in the world believe that it contains literature, not Truth.
     
  14. royalstilton

    royalstilton New Member

    Aug 2, 2004
    SoCal
    Club:
    Liverpool FC
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    ---
    actually, that isn't what you originally said.

    did you go door to door to poll the majority of the people of the world, or did you read this fascinating bit of nonsense somewhere?

    let's see. the world's Christians believe it contains Truth. Islam believes that some of the OT is Truth. the NT is more complicated for them. since they don't believe in the idea of a Messiah, the whole Jesus Christ thing is lost on Muslims, but i'm pretty sure that Islam doesn't categorically say the NT is totally untrue. after all, they consider Jesus a prophet.

    Buddhists are not concerned with God as such. theoretically, one could be a
    Buddhist and think of oneself as part of a religious group. i would guess that they are not very conversant with the NT. most Hindus know relative little about the NT. i have that on the authority of two Christian missionaries in India.

    Confucians and Shintos? not big NT readers is my best bet.

    my point is this: of the people in the world who have some real knowledge about the NT, most of those think it isn't literature. if you want to say that people who don't know anything about the NT think it's literature, that isn't saying much, is it?
     
  15. Demosthenes

    Demosthenes Member+

    May 12, 2003
    Berkeley, CA
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I know you feel passionately about your religious views, but they are not shared by most people on earth. That's just reality. Apparently you think that's out of their ignorance, and that's fine. You can think whatever best supports your chosen belief system. That's fine.

    The point here is that, whatever the Bible's authors' intentions, it IS a work of literature in addition to being a religious text. The Old Testament was not composed with the intention of being subject to critical literary analysis either, but there you are. Any college in the country has an English or Comp Lit class called The Bible as Literature, or some such. And I'm sure, based on what I know of Bloom's work, that his analysis consists of a bit more than just rating the two Testaments in comparison to one another. Literary criticism isn't really about rating the quality of a work. So don't get your Christian panties in a wad.
     
  16. BenReilly

    BenReilly New Member

    Apr 8, 2002
    This reminds me of one of my favorite stories. Howard Dean was asked to name his favorite part of the New Testament. His answer: The Book of Job. The only thing that could have made it funnier would be if he had pulled a George Bush and refused to admit his error.

    The "Old Testament" (absurdly named) includes some of the best literature written over a period of over 1000 years. The comparison is silly and unfair to the New Testament.
     
  17. royalstilton

    royalstilton New Member

    Aug 2, 2004
    SoCal
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    ---
    if you want to say that anything that someone wrote down, that can be read, is literature, i obviously cannot argue with you. the fact that colleges invent a class called "The NT as Literature" only means that there are people who want to look at the Bible apart from the specific intent of the writers. that sort of thinking is "modernistic", not to say post-modern, and it should be discouraged on the basis that it forces false criteria upon the written work.

    we would hardly invent a class called "Mid Century Japanese Instruction Guides as Literature", would we?

    i don't wear panties. you don't either is my guess.
     
  18. Mel Brennan

    Mel Brennan PLANITARCHIS' BANE

    Paris Saint Germain
    United States
    Apr 8, 2002
    Baltimore
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    You migrate every single thing from an exclusionary faith-base. You think you know the specific intent of the writers to be able to mention it at all above precisely because you have faith that what you think/what you've been told is in fact the case. What's "post-modern" is not treating the NT as being possessed of literative properties, but, rather, your abandonment of the ability and capability of acknowledging any other way of tackling and wrestling with these works. THAT is waht is new; that can be characterised by a persistent opposition meta-narratives, an alertness to the difference, diversity, the incompatibility of our aspirations, beliefs and desires not as an abundance of micronarratives that have worth in and of themselves, but as linked to the One Truth. You are definitively shot through with Biblical post-modernism.

    Not everyone dealt with the NT the way you do.


    That being said, both Testaments has literary qualities; the narrative of the OT is centered around justice, the just act, and struggle with God...more dramatic. It's also the "origin story"...the ultimate base/frame from which to spring. The NT narrative is centered around love, doing the loving act, and the world, being what we've made it, "naturally" condemning such acts and persons until it itself is transformed by such love-in-action. Mostly soppy until Revelations...almost like it was tacked on to spice it all up/give hope, through literary technique, to those lacking hope...
     
  19. royalstilton

    royalstilton New Member

    Aug 2, 2004
    SoCal
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    ---
    here's the problem in a nutshell: you imagine that you understand the purpose, the intent, the motive, the rationale, the raison d'etre for Biblical Scripture. you are intelligent, have the ability to see things from a structured, rational, informed perspective, and you are capable of articulating your thoughts in a way that they can be understood and evaluated by others, so dialog about your ideas is possible.

    but here's the rub, Mr. B: things of the spirit are spiritually discerned; it is not a matter of being capable of thinking clearly; it is a matter of being given the gift, thru the spirit of Truth, of discerning what is Truth. you may have that gift, though i don't always see the evidence. so, the bottom line is that you cannot, thru the agency of human reason, divine the purposes that the authors of the NT were fulfilling.

    sorry.

    and the part of your post that i underlined...what in the world are you talking about? you are beyond recondite.
     
  20. spejic

    spejic Cautionary example

    Mar 1, 1999
    San Rafael, CA
    Club:
    San Jose Earthquakes
    But without an intelectual basis for the reading, how is anyone supposed to devise the true meaning when you and other people, equally convinced that they have the spirit, do not agree?
     
  21. christopher d

    christopher d New Member

    Jun 11, 2002
    Weehawken, NJ
    So, what do you do with those writings if you don't believe them to be "of the spirit", or that some are given the "gift of truth" while others aren't?
     
  22. BenReilly

    BenReilly New Member

    Apr 8, 2002
    Some parts of the "Old Testament" were clearly nothing more than literature. The only revisionism is that they (fortunately) got included in the "bible" and were given a religious spin. Song of Songs is a good example. It's a pity to think how much was lost. Some lost books are even referenced in the bible.
     
  23. royalstilton

    royalstilton New Member

    Aug 2, 2004
    SoCal
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    Liverpool FC
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    ---
    the glib, self-satisfied answer is read: them and weep -- but that's just obnoxious.

    no. you can read the Bible for any reason you wish. before God revealed himself to me, i, like others, used to read the Bible, willy-nilly, as a sleep aid. i needed a sleep aid; i was living a life destined to cause pain to "innocent" people becuz i was even more self-centered and petty than i am now. you don't really know me, so the extent of what you can determine about my character is my testy posts on this board. i'm a mostly cheerful curmudgeon in real life.

    i hope and pray -- less than i ought -- that folks are looking for "the only true God". away from this den of iniquity, i try to show the love of Christ to one and all. i believe in saving whales and Mother's Day and saying "Please" and "Thank you", but i'm not good enough to go to heaven on my own account. i've proved that time and time again.

    god is in the Bible. he wrote it so we would find him and see his love and respond with grateful hearts. not everyone is willing to consider that there is a loving God. some people want to be God, to circumscribe God with enough qualifications that if they were offered the job to be God, they wouldn't take it, not that it's being offered, mind you.

    i can't prove one person wrong who denies the existence of God because it requires an open heart and i don't have the ability to change hearts. God does and will. he changed mine. i know that isn't immediately apparent, and i know that it doesn't stand as evidence to cynics or skeptics or to the angry or those satisfied with their own performance.

    Paul wrote that one day, every knee will bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. when that happens, i pray you have already confessed.
     
  24. royalstilton

    royalstilton New Member

    Aug 2, 2004
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    ---
    if we are Christians, we agree on all the essentials...
     
  25. Norsk Troll

    Norsk Troll Member+

    Sep 7, 2000
    Central NJ
    Coptic Christians and Gnostic Christians might disagree with that statement. And your essentials.
     

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