How to Read the Bible: Chapter 7, by James Kugel


You may remember from long ago that I was working on a long-term project to read the Bible along with a lot of supplementary reading. I have read the Bible a few times, and this time I really want to study it. One of the supplementary works that I have been reading on and off is How to Read the Bible, by James L. Kugel. If you want to read my summaries of earlier chapters:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7 is a short chapter in which Kugel describes to aspects of the Bible: the two ways of conceiving God, and the perception of angels in the Old Testament.

Modern readers of the Bible tend to view god as omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. That is the later model of God in the Bible. In earlier texts, God is not everywhere simultaneously. As an example, during the Tower of Babel story (Genesis 11:1-9), God has to go down to earth to see what was going on.

But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. Genesis 11:5

If he omnipresent and omniscient, he wouldn’t have to go make this trip. He would simply be there and know. Furthermore, God walks in the garden of Eden, as well as appearing in other places in the early texts as a human-like figure. This is against the currently common conception of God.

As for angels: it is common for men and women in the bible to mistake angels for men at first. One example is when an angel comes to Manoah and his wife in Judges 13:2-24.

God heard Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman while she was out in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. The woman hurried to tell her husband, “He’s here! The man who appeared to me the other day!” Judges 13:9-10

As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. Judges 13:20-21

This general confusion is a theme throughout the Old Testament. It isn’t entirely clear why people are so confused about whom they are talking with.

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