A Mini Bible: Dumbing down, or a real challenge?

27 Sep

The Guardian newspaper has published a 378 word  summation of the Bible, by John Crace.
The text is reproduced from the website, in the extended section below.

It’s a fascinating task: to try to offer a coherent, balanced but short account of what you think something like the Bible, or a particular faith such as Judaism or Christianity, is about.

I think Crace has done us a service, even entertained us in parts.
But I also find some major things missing and some things that I would put in, which he didn’t …

John Crace reads the Bible as a story, basically a history. He includes a few characters from the long story of ancient Israel, and then some of the story of Jesus. It’s interesting who gets a mention and who doesn’t. Mary is the only woman mentioned. There are many of the ‘big names’, but important influences such as the prophets are mentioned only as an aside.

There is nothing at all past the Gospel stories of Jesus. There is nothing of the church, the ongoing story of biblical faith. (Amongst Christians in the orthodox streams, few will be happy with the reference to an angel ‘getting Mary pregnant’, or perhaps some of the other phrases.)
And there seems to be no significance offered to the death of Jesus at all, let alone the ideas of salvation or atonement through suffering so central to the biblical stream right through.

But before that, too, there is nothing of the worship of Israel, nothing of the wisdom teaching and  the prophets—well, except for the joke about singing psalms to Kumbaya.
The interesting geographical dimensions are missing—the struggles between city-based living, and the ethical issues it raises, compared with the ‘wilderness’ spirituality of the desert places. These are just a few things which might have been given some words, at the expense of others perhaps.

Most of all,  there is no sense here that this is really about a living, continuing story of God, God with people and people with God. I don’t feel the sense of this as an inviting a story, a story in which readers may be participants.
In my earlier blog on ‘How to read the Bible’ I have suggested that the meaning of the Bible calls for more than the idea of a history, a story of the past.It invites more imagination than that!

But I don’t want to be negative about the enterprise. I am impressed by Crace’s effort.
I try to teach theology students that they need to be able to do this: to offer a concise, reasonable, understandable account of what they think.

What do others think of John Crace’s statement?

Here is John Crace’s Bible in 378 words:

God created heaven and earth in six days. He then made Adam, quickly followed by Eve when he saw that Adam was bored. Their descendants proved a real disappointment, so he flooded the world and started again.

But God continued to have a lot of problems. Abraham was OK, but Jacob cheated on his brother and Joseph was such a prima donna that his brothers sold him into slavery. Moses tried to lay down the law but it took an almighty strop for anyone to notice. Joshua killed a lot of people; so did Gideon; in fact most of the judges and kings were lying psychopaths. Understandably the Jewish people needed to relax, so they sang psalms to the tune of Kumbaya.

Back in the action and it was still looking grim. A few grumpy prophets apart, it was bloodletting on a grand scale all the way. Things improved when an angel got Mary pregnant in 1BC. Joseph was very understanding about this and nine months later Jesus was born. Various shepherds and wise men paid their respects before Jesus was whisked out of town to escape Herod. He spent the next 30 years chilling out before beginning his ministry when John the Baptist was arrested. Jesus tried to avoid publicity but it was hard to keep a low profile when he was pulling off stunts like raising the dead. So it wasn’t long before he collected some disciples, and from these he chose his main crew, the apostles.
Much of Jesus’ teaching was captured when he spoke about the meaning of humility during the Sermon on the Mount. Apart from forgiving sins, he also said that anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery. These views made him extremely unpopular, but calling himself the Messiah was the last straw. When he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he knew his days were numbered. On the Thursday night he was betrayed by Judas and taken before Pontius Pilate, who offered the Jews a chance to reprieve him. They refused and he was crucified and buried. He rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. Jesus reassured his followers he was for real and over the next 40 days he made a number of other appearances before going up to heaven.

One thought on “A Mini Bible: Dumbing down, or a real challenge?

  1. It seems a little like the extended version of a creed… people often wish the creeds say a little more about Jesus’ life. Perhaps Crase should should have read also the end of the creed about the Spirit. You should here Eddie Izzard’s (an English Comedian) biblical account.. fairly crude but insightful, with perhaps more concise knowledge that some theological students! (Eddie Izzard, “Dressed to Kill”)

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