Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Two Common Bible Myths

Here are what I think are the two most pervasive myths when it comes to the Bible. These were first clarified for me in college. I had exposed them as myths for years, but balked a bit when I saw the first one below printed in a book recently, which led me to reexamine. Turns out, they are in fact myths.

"Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Myth: When Jesus said this, he was referring to an actual place in Jerusalem, a gate that was very narrow, where the camel would have to take all of the stuff off its back and crawl through.

Man, I have heard this one for years. I guess it is so pervasive because it is a bit exciting to find out a cultural issue that sheds light on something Jesus said. Unfortunately, it's false.

This is the classic case of interpreting the Bible based on your current surroundings, rather than on the culture and time in which it was written. This myth dates back to 11th century France, when a monk came up with this explanation. The problem is, the gates in the 1st century in this area were big. They did not begin to build elaborate gates with small entrances until centuries later, which would have been observed by the French monk.

Myth: When the High Priest would go into the Most Holy Place in the Temple, he would have a rope tied around his waist, in case he was impure and was killed, they could pull his body out.

This, too, is a myth that dates back to Medieval times. Here is what Dr. Wave Nunnally has to say on this issue:

The earliest text in which it appears is the Zohar, a medieval mystical work that is the basis of Kabbalah. It appears in Emor section 34 (Yom Kippor), line 251, “Rabbi Yitzchak said, ‘A chain was tied to the feet of the High Priest when he entered the Holy of Holies, so that if he dies there they will take him out, since it is forbidden to enter there. How did they know whether he was alive or not? By a crimson colored strap. If its color did not turn white, it was known at that time that the priest was there in sin. And if he came out in peace, it was known and recognized by the crimson strap that turned white. Then there was joy among the higher and lower beings. If not, they were all in sorrow and all knew that their prayer was not accepted.’” Note the modern embellishments of this text that is itself a literary fiction: rope versus chain, ankle or waist versus “feet”, no longer hearing the bells tinkle versus the changing of the color of the crimson strap.

No modern speaker accepts this narrative as true in whole, as you can clearly see in some of the weird elements that are included. (All above references come from Dr. Wave Nunnally, New Testament scholar and Jewish Backgrounds expert).

Until next time, may we eternally seek the truth!


Chip Burkitt said...

Here's another good old story with no basis in fact. I've heard it used as a sermon illustration on several occasions. The gist is that Leonardo da Vinci used a young man as a model for his portrayal of Jesus in The Last Supper. He then sought out models for each of the disciples. He spent years looking for just the right models. For Judas Iscariot he had a difficult time finding anyone with the look of depravity he wanted to capture in Judas' face. He finally found a man, filthy and unkempt, whom he persuaded to pose for Judas. As Leonardo prepared to take some sketches, the man looked around him in wonder and began to weep. When Leonardo asked him the reason, the man replied, "Don't you remember? I was the one who posed for Christ years ago."
This is a great story with the only drawback being that it is completely fictitious.

Nick said...

Interesting, Chip. I had never heard that one. thanks for that nugget of truth.