This is my companion review to my earlier review of the Old Testament, and, as I was reminded by the Cannonball overlords, a timely read given that Easter is coming up this weekend (happy end of Lent to the righteous, happy long weekend to the rest of us heathens!).
As a basic overview for those who have been putting off their Bible studies, the New Testament (or at least the Good News Bible version) is roughly 330 pages which are divided into 27 chapters, or ‘books’ of uneven length. The first four books (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are the Gospels, and they tell the story of Jesus’ life, death and rise to heaven. The next book, Acts, picks up after Jesus’ death as the apostles are trying to sort out how to continue the Christian church without him. Acts also sets the stage for the next section, Epistles (or ‘Letters’ for us less fancy folk), by telling the story of a Jew named Saul , who converts from persecuting the Christians to being a Christian, changing his name to Paul in the process. After Acts come the 21 books of Letters, the majority of of them written by Saul-now-Paul, and giving advice to various fledgling Christian churches across the Mediterranean. Rounding out the end of the New Testatment is Revelations, the bonkers final book loved by zealots and the conspiracy-minded everywhere.
As with the Old Testament, and despite being only a third of its length, there is a lot going on in the New Testament. Some stream of consciousness thoughts that I had as I was reading through:
- The Gospels could have used a better editor: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are all repeating the same story (Jesus is born, Jesus does the miracles, Jesus dies and is risen);
- I wonder if anyone has written about the small details that differ between the Gospels? It feels a bit like a criminal investigation, where all of the witnesses are consistent on the main story but they each remember other details differently (or omit those details altogether). The biggest omission for me was what happens to Judas after he betrays Jesus- only one of the Gospels discusses it (Matthew: he commits suicide), which seems suspiciously light follow up treatment for the man who committed the ultimate betrayal;
- Jesus never actually says that he is the Messiah. Other people call him that, and he makes a lot of statements/actions that could be interpreted that way, but I couldn’t see anywhere in these pages where he actually says these words;
- Jesus is mercurial. There are several places where he gets frustrated with his followers for not immediately understanding the cryptic point he is talking around, following which he pouts by refusing to explain anything more. There’s also another odd story where he curses a fig tree to be barren forever, simply because the tree had the misfortune of not bearing fruit when Jesus happened to be hungry. This seems unnecessary harsh for the poor fig tree;
- The rapidly increasing number of followers that Jesus attracts makes me want to read more about religious leaders and cults of personality. I remember reading about Joseph Smith’s charismatic nature in John Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, and now I want to go back and reread about him too;
- From a conspiracy theory perspective I find it really interesting that before Jesus’ death, the Pharisees (powerful Jewish sect) suspected that Jesus’ followers would remove his body from the tomb and then lie and say that Jesus had been raised from the dead;
- There is so much irony in (some) Christians relying on their stated love of/adherence to the teachings of Christ, who was a middle eastern Jew, to justify doing/saying horrible things to/about middle easterners and Jews;
- Considering that he never actually met Christ, Paul sure has a lot of advice and direction to give about how the Christian Church should be run. He also has a lot of advice on how women should behave/what roles they are allowed to fulfill (ie: submissive, and only supporting roles) that doesn’t seem to accord with Jesus’ more egalitarian treatment of women. Quite frankly, I’m not very fond of this Paul guy at all;
- Paul also writes a lot of letters that I’m not sure anyone was asking for. He is really concerned with telling everyone else what to do;
- I just finished Tara Westover’s Educated, so I’m now thinking about the New Testament in the context of Mormonism. I feel like Paul is the Brigham Young of the New Testament- less charismatic, less empathetic, more of a rule stickler;
- How many letters can Paul write, and why did so many of them survive? Surely we didn’t need this many letters?
- HOLY SHIT, Revelations is something else. Horsemen of the apocalypse, beasts and dragons, death harvesting souls with his sickle. There is literally a section titled, “The Woman and the Dragon.” My brother has nicknamed this chapter “Bible of Thrones”, so maybe its also especially timely that I’m reviewing this just as Daenerys and her dragons have returned to TV?
- I think the glossary at the very end of the Bible may be my favourite part of this whole adventure. Did you know that ‘abyss’ comes from the word for ‘the depths of the earth where, according to ancient Jewish teaching, the demons were imprisoned until their final punishment’? Or that ‘Amen’ means ‘it is so/may it be so’? Or that ‘Christ’ is the Greek word for ‘the anointed one’, because anointing was part of the ceremony used in becoming King (FYI: I just watched the coronation scene in The Crown last night, and they did the anointing there too!). I LOVE this glossary.
As a wrap-up, and as with my Old Testament review, I wanted to evaluate how the New Testament rated on my 3 goals: 1.5/3 stars (so: half a star more than the Old Testament, which was only 1/3):
- Greater understanding of cultural Biblical references: Big gold star here. Like the Old Testament, the Jesus stories get a lot of mileage in our culture, and I’ve already had a chance to apply some of this knowledge (ie: the anointing scene in the Crown made so much more sense!);
- Evaluation of the source material for Biblical moral authority: Half a star. I think a lot of Jesus’ ideas (be kind to others, love your neighbor, help those less fortunate, etc.) were good ones, and miles ahead of (and more consistent than) the morality in the Old Testament. That being said, there is still a lot here that is problematic- Saul/Paul, I’m looking right at you;
- Opportunity to spark revelation in my agnostic/atheist soul: No stars. While I appreciate that some people find faith in the Bible, try as I might I couldn’t get there from here.