Had an interesting realisation last night. My Bible Study has been working through the book of Zechariah. This is a difficult book, being basically fourteen chapters of prophecy, as far as the Bible scholars down through time can determine. It is dense, difficult reading, all the more so for not being one of the more well-known prophecies (i.e. Revelation or Danial).
We went through chapters 12 and 13 last night. Towards the end of the passage, the study was comparing the prophetic words in Zechariah to what it called similar passages late in Revelation. (If you’ve ever read Revelation, you will probably notice the imagery gets distinctly more obscure when you reach chapter 20. Zechariah is a bit like that.) It did this to portray the idea that Zechariah’s later prophecies are about Jesus’ coming, His death and resurrection, and then his second coming. We are, of course, living in the time in the middle.
One thing I’m struggling with is the context of the Biblical narrative and the historicity of it. We know the Jewish nation went through a significant diaspora in what is called The Exile, followed more than a generation later as The Return. The Jews who returned were quite a different people than those who were taken. Before the Exile, they were hard to distinguish from the surrounding peoples in Palestine, and constantly battled with the idea of monothiesm under Yahweh. Especially when neighbouring nations had goddesses like Asherah who had all these nice temple priestesses.
As far as I know, every church teaches that the children of Israel constantly struggled with worship of God. They would fall away, and then repent, and then fall away and repent again in a constant cycle. Some kings would clamp down on non-Yahweh worship, others would lead the way back into it. Scholars know that some of the historical scripture we have has been edited by later priests to cast a monotheistic slant. But it’s imperfect and we can see seams and sometimes even distinct bias. Especially as they didn’t get to all the scriptures. Israel didn’t struggle in simple cycles: some parts of Israel never abandoned the Baalim and different parts of the nation moved in and out of montheism in all different ways.
But what did happen is that Jewish people radically reshaped their religion when they were in Exile. They got exposed to Zoroastrianism which is solidly monothiestic. They also had a solid body of work from their own prophets warning over and over again that Yahweh would cast them down if they kept turning away from him. The Exile brought all that into sharp focus. And the Return meant they could implement it in the lands of their fathers.
This describes the fervour in Ezra and Nehemiah with which they spurned other gods and those would worship other gods – including the indigenous remnant of Jews who were left behind in the Exile. It also provides important context for Zechariah and his prophecies.
Read in the traditional church-based monotheistic context, it is easy to see God’s hand in disciplining his people. Many Christians’ I know do see that. I’ve already described what happened in a more neutral light, but what occurred to me last night is that there was no reason Yahweh could not have been working through that process. No reason at all.
I’ve been exploring and trying to understand the teachings upon which I’ve hitherto claimed to base my faith on. In fact I’ve been seriously wondering how much the church doesn’t consider when it does its teaching of scripture. There are lots of resources for looking into this. And there are lots of resources for seeking spiritual quests outside the Jewish and Christian scriptures, too. And in last night’s study I was getting a strong sense of validation for what I’m doing. If you like, God is giving me permission to look beyond a mere Bible translation in whatever direction takes my interest. I want to understand.
It can make Bible Study a bit heavy. I can and do bring up references and discussion far outside what our study guide will present. I reach into my knowledge about history, archeology, anthropology, story-telling and that’s just what I can enumerate. But in my opinion, that’s the purpose of a Bible Study: to do excatly that. No-one has complained yet. I suspect at least two others are watching my journey with some interest.