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The World’s Toughest Bible Quiz May 19, 2011

Posted by Mary W. Matthews in Religion & Theology.

There are two ways of interpreting the Bible. The first, exegesis, means examining ancient writings that are literally thousands of years old and trying to figure out what the original authors of these writings in Hebrew, Aramaic, and ancient Greek wanted their original audiences — most of them illiterate, all of them uneducated by 21st century standards — to understand.

Eisegesis, on the other hand, means deciding what you want the Bible to say, and trolling in it for proof-texts to “prove” that you’re right. For example, there are more than 300 verses in the Bible that condone or accept slavery; Exodus 25:44 even says that Americans can own slaves, as long as the slaves come from Mexico, Canada, Russia, Central America, and other “surrounding nations.” On the other hand, there are exactly six verses that can be MISinterpreted as saying that God disapproves of male homosexuality. (The Bible has zero problem with female homosexuality.) Guess what sort of believer uses these six verses to “prove” that “God hates” the same people the believer hates?

This is not a quiz for most people; it’s way too difficult. This is a quiz for lay people who consider themselves to be experts on the Bible, even though they have no formal training from either an accredited theological seminary or from an accredited program of lay education, such as the Episcopalians’ EFM or the Roman Catholics’ RCIA. This is a quiz for lay people who have memorized dozens of their favorite proof-texts — but who may not be as familiar with the entire Bible as they think they are.

  1. In Luke 16:1-12, why does Jesus praise and recommend embezzlement, breach of trust, bribery, and deceit?
  2. Was the Last Supper on a Thursday (Matthew, Mark, & Luke) or on a Wednesday (John)?
  3. Read Exodus 4:24-26. Why does God try to kill Moses immediately after commissioning him to confront Pharaoh? Whom does Tsipporah circumcize: Moses, Gershom, or Yahweh? How do you know? Why did she do it? What does the phrase “bridegroom of blood” mean, and why does Tsipporah use it? Why, after thousands of years of exegesis, do relatively few theologians acknowledge that Moses’s life was saved by (a) a woman who was (b) acting as a Midianite priestess?
  4. Write a chancel drama of Exodus 17:8-13. Moses is to be played by Moe Howard, Aaron is to be played by Curly Howard, and Nun (father of Joshua) is to be played by Larry Fine. Yes, that’s right, the Three Stooges.
  5. If you consider the Bible to be as historically accurate as the 2011 Encyclopedia Britannica, explain where Cain and Seth got their wives. Does your answer indicate that God has no objection to incest? Does Genesis 19:30-38 indicate that God has no objection to incest?
  6. The Bible says that the king of Egypt persecuted the Jews because God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart,” not just once but repeatedly (4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 14:4; etc.). Doesn’t that make God ultimately responsible for the Jews’ suffering?
  7. In Numbers 16, three Israelites protested what they perceived as the arrogance of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam as the unelected leaders of the Hebrews, speaking this truth: “The whole community is holy, and YHWH is in our midst” (16:3), so what makes Moses and Aaron think they’re such hot stuff? In response, Yahweh kills: the three “rebels” (subtotal: 3); every one of their wives; every one of their children; every one of their dependents (oldsters, servants, etc.; subtotal: 250); every one of their domesticated animals; all of the possessions of these 253 people; and anyone who grumbled that such wholesale slaughter of innocents was excessive (subtotal: 14,700). Total number of people killed by God: 14,953. Do you believe that God acted fairly? Explain.
  8. Why does Psalm 137:9 imply that God would look favorably on the murder of babies?
  9. Did Judas hang himself (Matt. 27:5) or spontaneously explode (Acts 1:17)? Was “Judas” a real human being, or a composite character meant to distract the blame for the Crucifixion away from the Romans who did it? If you believe Judas was a real human being, explain why “God in a man-suit” considered Judas to be one of his 12 closest friends.
  10. Why are Isaac and Jesus honored in the Bible for voluntarily allowing their fathers to kill them (even though Isaac was saved at the last second), while Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11), who voluntarily allowed her father to kill her, doesn’t even get a name?
  11. How many times in the Christian Testament is the word “antichrist” used as a noun?
  12. Why does Hosea recommend wife abuse as moral behavior?
  13. How many insect species “walk on four legs” (Lev. 11:22-23)?
  14. Do rabbits, hares, and rock badgers chew their cuds like cows (Lev. 11:6, Deut. 14:7)? If you answer “yes,” can you prove your answer without resorting to eisegesis?
  15. If Jesus was dead between 3 p.m. on Good Friday and dawn on Sunday, that would seem to indicate that he was dead for about 38 to 40 hours. How does 38 to 40 hours mean “three days and three nights”? What was the significance of “three days and three nights” to the Jews of the first century?
  16. Which female disciples witnessed the Resurrection: Mary called Magdalene; Mary the mother of James; Salome; “the other Mary”; at least two other, anonymous women (Luke 24:10)? If only female disciples witnessed the Crucifixion (Matthew 26:56, Mark 15:40), why does the Fourth Gospel take for granted that the Beloved Disciple must have been male (John 19:25-27)?
  17. Of the following men, which do historical accounts and/or ancient theology say were born of virgins: Herakles; Alexander the Great; Pythagoras; Plato; Jesus; Aristomenes; Augustus? Does that mean any of these men was in fact born of a virgin?

Some of these questions have no answers. Many of them have attempted answers from theologians that are unsatisfactory to skeptics. (“God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because Pharaoh was very, very wicked anyway.”) Several of them have answers that are unsatisfactory to believers — for example, the word “antichrist” appears only five times in two very brief second-century epistles in the Christian Testament (1 John 2:18, 2:22, 4:3; 2 John 1:7), and the word is usually used to describe followers of religions other than Christianity who are skeptical of proto-Christian claims. Bear in mind that Christianity may be the world’s dominant religion today, but in the second century, the Jesus Movement was a small bunch of kooks who acted as though the gods Tammuz and Osiris had come again.

All or virtually all of these questions can be dealt with easily by accepting that the Bible is a human artifact, and that no artifact can be “inerrant” — especially not as “inerrant” as a Divine Being.

The Bible is not a science textbook. The world is not flat; you can’t see the entire world from the top of a mountain in Galilee; serpents, donkeys, and trees can’t talk; pi does not equal exactly three; rabbits don’t chew their cuds; insects have more than four legs; etc.

The Bible is not a history book. The Universe was not created twice; the Earth is not flat; the sky is not a dome made of hammered metal. Stars don’t fall from the sky as if the real world were The Truman Show. Paradise does not circle the flat Earth like a belt, while God and his heavenly court enjoy the Third Heaven above the hammered metal dome. Fig trees bear their fruit in August; Jesus did not curse a fig tree to death for not bearing fruit in April. (That is, unless the Son of God was petty, childish, and vindictive.)

The Bible is not science. The Bible is not history. The Bible is theology.



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