Fr Koala has just finished reading me the story of the poor woman who was handed over to be gang raped to death. Fr Koala calls her the concubine but I don’t like that. It makes her sound like an expensive silky ornament rather than a human being.
The story comes from the Book of Judges in the Bible. It tells how the lady ran away from her man to her father’s house and that after some months he went to fetch her back. On their journey home they stopped at a place called Gibeah. Some men demanded that the man be brought out so that they could violate him sexually. His host would not disobey the rules of hospitality so offered to send out his virgin daughter and the “concubine.” In the end only the poor dead lady was sent out.
This is a brutal story and it is tales such as this that lead people to mock the Bible.
What we must remember is that this story does not even come from Jesus’s time. It was a story first told by tribesmen more than half a millennia earlier. We know that most women at that period (except those lucky enough to live in matriarchies) were treated as inferior to men. It would be unrealistic to expect 21st-century gender equality in a story of that age.
I also believe that people who make accusations against Christianity on the basis of stories like this are making an error in their thinking. They assume that we believe that the stories’ heroes are all doing exactly what God wants them to do, and that we think their wrongdoings are attributes of God and instructions for our lives today.
When we say that’s not the case, they accuse us of cherry picking the nice parts of the Bible and only believing in those. But even if Fr Koala read me really nasty Bible stories until they were imprinted on my brain, it would still not make the characters’ actions into attributes of God. They would still be relics of a very ancient human worldview.
As you know, dear readers, God is a character in his own right in the Bible stories. He does not get inside people and operate them like puppets. Sometimes he commands some pretty nasty stuff, but we only have the storytellers’ word for that.
I am happy to believe that some stories reflect the tellers’ prejudices more than they reflect God. Because you see, we don’t take single Bible stories out of context and say “this tells us exactly what God is like.” We put all the Bible stories together and as a community, with the aid of prayer and scholarship, look for the divine threads running all the way through them.
We can see this divine thread running through the stories despite the fact that they were written centuries apart, which is pretty special.
We can see this divine thread running through stories that vary wildly in their levels of historicity, fictionalisation and ancient worldview prejudices. That’s also special.
Fr Koala says,
we can make the mistake of believing that God only speaks through actual historical events. We sometimes wrongly imagine that the Bible writers were completely neutral mirrors to God and that the normal writing processes do not apply to them. But I believe strongly that God can speak through storytellers, even when what they are saying seems to be completely made up or rather unpleasant.”
Editor’s Note: This reminds me of Darren Hill’s piece about the dangers of random tweets/Facebook Bible verses scattered around, and how they may appear out of context.