Thursday, March 5, 2015

Why the Bible is Weirder than you think....:A review of The Biblical Cosmos by Robin A. Parry

Robin A. Parry talks about those parts of the Old Testament in his new book The Biblical Cosmos: A Pilgrim's Guide to the Weird and Wonderful World of the Bible. What parts? The parts of the Bible that seem to indicate the authors believed in a flat earth, sea monsters and weird demons out in the desert. I'll be honest, I cannot remember a time in my undergraduate or graduate studies where I was given a truly biblical (non-apologetic) approach to these strange texts. So I approached this book with a great deal of excitement. I was not disappointed.

Product DetailsAfter a brief introduction to ancient views of cosmologies, the book dives into how the Bible views the ancient world. There are four parts to the book. Part one deals with how the Bible views the world. Here, Parry takes us through a tour of the Israelite view of the ocean, land, mountains, weather and sheol/hades.

Part two, takes us through a tour of how the Bible views the heavens. Here we get a view of the sky, stars, angels, archangels and more. I'll leave some of Parry's arguments to the end of the review. However, it is a fascinating section that deserves careful reading.

Part three, deals with how the cosmos is patterned upon the temple and how Jesus transforms the biblical cosmos. I absolutely loved how Jesus is shown to restore every single element of the cosmos through his life, death and resurrection. Parry finally presents a convincing case as to why Christ actually did travel to hades after death.

Finally, part four deals with how we can apply all this cosmological language to our every day life. Parry finds our ability to draw meaning from the metaphors. Metaphor allows us to see the cosmos as truly living (not in a pantheistic way). In this way we can adopt a spiritual hermeneutic (my term, not Parry's) when interpreting our surroundings. We can truly see a God entranced vision of all things (Parry's basic idea, not mine).

Why could Parry's book cause a stir? Here are some of my thoughts merged with Parry's thoughts:
  • Parry (while not overtly stating this) assumes that scientific explanations (read: theistic evolution) is not incompatible with Scripture's view of the cosmos. In other words, Parry assumes that the authors were not being literal in Genesis. It was part of their understanding of the cosmos. I am not sharing my stance on this issue. I am just saying that many upfront will discount Parry's book because of this issue.
  • It is clear that the authors of the Bible at least structured their thinking of the earth and heavens around ancient cosmologies. They were potentially doing this as an apologetic device, of course. In this way they could dialogue with surrounding cultures and simultaneous critique the polytheistic understanding of creation.
  • Even if the biblical authors DID have an incorrect understanding of the cosmos, that doesn't devalue or call into question the truthfulness of the Bible, according to Parry. The authors saw that God was the creator and that all of creation testified to his power. To expect the authors to have pinpoint scientific understanding of the world is unrealistic. I suppose (and this is my take away, not Parry's argument) if God did not even reveal with perfect clarity the Messiah in the Old Testament, why would he reveal with precision the nature of the cosmos? 
The book is well researched and easy to read. I really like the illustrations in the book (I found the one on how the cosmos were structured as a cylinder really helpful). There is some great humor throughout the work. It is an easy read and is absolutely loaded with biblical citations. I found the work in most cases EXTREMELY convincing. The main reason is that the entire argument is based off of actual ancient cosmologies. It makes the Bible both beautiful and exciting--full of depth and meaning.

I think this is an important work that serves as a great introduction to what biblical scholars have known for a long time--the world of the Bible is wacky, weird and really exciting.

*Thanks to Cascade Books for providing a free review copy of this work in exchange for a fair review* 

No comments:

Post a Comment