The Bible, it’s complicated…
When you think of a book - chances are the Bible is pretty high up your list of associated words - even though ‘a book’ was an alien concept when the Bible was being formed. There was no such thing as a ‘book’ when the Bible emerged across multiple cultures, several different languages and thousands of years. Imagine telling Shakespeare that he’d written an e-book - he’d get the gist of what you were talking about - but would have little frame of reference for what you were on about when you stared talking about downloads, and Kobos and Kindles.
“Prithee knave, what be this tablet slender
that changes not, words through air from sender?”
The Bible has a fascinating, complex history. Like the chicken and the egg, the Bible and the book are a riddle. We think of the Bible as something that fits into the category of ‘book’, but it was the popularity and prevalence of the Bible, along with emerging production technologies that helped define the concept of ‘a book’ at all. A library of scrolls took on a new shape - with front and back cover, with numbered verses and chapters - long after it first emerged.
So the Bible is a book before there were books - a spiritual, historical and cultural phenomenon still felt globally today. The Bible is not so much a star player from a particular team, it helped write the rules of the game - and it still does. The Bible influences so much of popular culture - setting so many of the parameters when we think about art, morality and narrative..
The Bible is present in churches, homes, hospitals, schools, courtrooms and hotels. But it is also in blockbusters, and adverts and cartoons. It is smuggled across borders and left languishing on dusty shelves. It is ignored, and cherished, vilified and celebrated - but it is never absent. Humanity and the Bible are intricately interwoven, each informing the other.
Like I say it’s complicated.
And so are the characters featured in the Bible. I think that when we are so familiar with the Bible (either from firsthand experience or the references we find scattered across cultures) we forget how traumatic and gritty the narrative often is. The characters often go through acute psychological strain. The Bible is not a nice wee book full of nice wee stories. The characters we find in the Bible don’t tend to be straightforward role models. They often behave strangely and against their own interest, and yet they play their own part in a compelling part of God’s unfolding plans. It is this complexity that keeps pulling us back to the Bible and intriguing generation after generation.
This February it has been rewarding to explore the Complex Characters in the Bible and encourage ourselves to look at these names, both familiar and obscure, from a fresh perspective. Get in touch or leave a comment if there’s anything in particular that has struck you over our series so far - or if there is another character in the Bible we have not featured but that you find compelling and interesting.