“The” Bible(s)

 

The Bible has no reference at all to any persons who ever existed or to any event that ever occurred upon earth.

The ancient story tellers were not writing history but an allegorical picture lesson of certain basic principles which they clothed in the garb of history, and they adapted these stories to the limited capacity of a most uncritical and credulous people.

Throughout the centuries we have mistakenly taken personifications for persons, allegory for history, the vehicle that conveyed the instruction for the instruction, and the gross first sense for the ultimate sense intended.

The difference between the form of the Bible and its substance is as great as the difference between a grain of corn and the life germ within that grain. As our assimilative organs discriminate between food that can be built into our system and food that must be discarded, so do our awakened intuitive faculties discover beneath allegory and parable, the psychological life-germ of the Bible; and, feeding on this, we, too, cast off the form which conveyed the message.

–Neville Goddard, “Consciousness Is The Only Reality”

 

It’s funny to me now that, several years ago, after years of exploring the history of the Christian church and finding irreconcilable contradictions at every turn, I had NO INTEREST WHATSOEVER in the Bible. Any interest I had was that of a skeptic: I explored (superficially) authors like Bart Ehrman, who has made an academic career out of delving into the Bible’s historicity. But I really felt like, as a book that contained any sort of message of relevant truth, the Bible was bullshit.

il_fullxfull.356406685_ii7kBut then I started really delving into the teachings of Neville Goddard, and, the way he explains and frames the Bible, it finally makes sense to me on a deep level. As a result, I’ve gone from barely ever opening the one Bible I owned (a well-worn King James Version of the Bible that my grandfather, a Lutheran lay preacher, used, its spine held together with strips of black electrical tape) to owning, by my count, SIX different copies of the book, each different: Grandpa Shenk’s King James Version, the French translation by Louis Segond, a French-English dual language edition, an Oxford annotated edition of the Revised Standard Version, and, finally, two 20th century translations which were done by scholars who went back to the original Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament) or Aramaic manuscripts, by George Lamsa and James Moffatt.

11Moffatt’s Bible was apparently Neville Goddard’s preferred edition; it and Lamsa’s translation are markedly different from “the Bible” as it is presented by the church and widely understood by mainstream Christians. Lamsa further broke from tradition by basing his New Testament translation not on the widely accepted Greek manuscripts, but on Aramaic manuscripts which, he maintained, predated the Greek versions.

I’m seeing, in exploring these texts even superficially, with Neville’s teachings as a guide, that the “historicity” of the Bible that matters most is not that of the events or people it purports to depict, but that of its history as a document: how it was assembled, selected, edited, revised, and translated. While I would dispute Neville’s assertion that “the Bible has no reference at all to any persons who ever existed” (Jesus, Pilate, Paul and others depicted in the Bible were, according to other accounts, real people whose existence is corroborated in non-scriptural historic records, although they may not have said or done what is attributed to them in the Bible), I do agree with Neville’s core belief about the Bible: that its meaning and importance is as “salvation history,” and, as he put it, that the people in its stories were depicted symbolically, as representative of states of consciousness… in particular, the states of consciousness a person passes through on his journey to awakening to his or her true identity as God embodied. (Neville’s excellent piece “The Twelve Disciples,” a chapter from his book Your Faith Is Your Fortune, typifies that interpretive approach.)

The personas of the people in the Bible were appropriated to tell a story, in other words.

It’s become clear to me, though, from delving even superficially into the Bible’s history as a document, that there were many different voices contributing to the work, and much of what was originally written has no doubt been perverted. Moffatt’s and Lamsa’s translations both were attempts to remedy this. I can’t write or speak with the authority of a Biblical scholar; I have not delved deeply into the Bible. Mainly I like having the different editions and translations at hand as reference material when Neville or someone else mentions a passage in a lecture.

But Neville, Lamsa and Moffatt all agree: what we call “The Bible” is not at all what it is widely believed to be. All of them agree that the closer a reader can get to the original Hebrew and Greek (or, as Lamsa maintained, Aramaic), the better.

Further, those original language documents are riddled with difficulties for a reader, much less a translator. There is much in the original manuscripts that has no modern English or Western equivalent, be those words, names, or figures of speech. Further, some of what was written was not meant to be spoken.

My sense is that “The” Bible is actually a collection of ancient texts, many of which were either deliberately edited and augmented after they were written, or which were mistranslated, or translated closely but misunderstood, so that, as Neville put it, readers mistake “personifications for persons, allegory for history, the vehicle that conveyed the instruction for the instruction, and the gross first sense for the ultimate sense intended.”

But mainly, as a document, “the” Bible, again, is not a single book, but a collection of books, or, as Neville put it in one of his lectures, a library in a single volume. And, to my pleasure, I’m finding that, like all good libraries, it’s a fascinating place to explore… but it must be met not on the terms of a church or organization, but on its own terms.

I’m grateful that I discovered Neville, Lamsa, and Moffatt as guides.


Neville From My Notebook

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More Neville From My Notebook

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