For the first time ever, I am reading the entire Bible. I know, it is probably quite shocking or even dangerous for me to make that confession. Seeing that I’m a PhD student in theology and biblical studies, one would think that having read the entire Bible would be a non-issue and not some box needing to be ticked. However, I ashamedly admit that I have not once read the thing right the way through, although I have probably read the majority of it in random chunks.
By way of penance for my reading failure, I have decided to read the entire Bible using the New Jerusalem version, which has all of the ‘other’ books.* Not only does using this version mean that I have 2052 pages** ahead of me, compared to the 1033 found in the NASB; it also means I will consciously need to think through the purpose and function of those ‘other’ books. I do the latter partly because I agree with St Jerome who maintained that the Apocrypha (i.e. those ‘other’ books) is a good read but not equal with the canonical books of Scripture; yet, its very existence cannot be overlooked or ignored.
(I think that rabbit’s dead. I should move on to the purpose of this post).
This morning I read through Exodus 20.1–23.33 and was struck by a particular statement within the discussion on justice, especially justice toward outsiders (or, ‘aliens’). Following a mandate on how legal matters are to be dealt with (23.1-3), a seemingly random collection of ideas is given in 23.4-9 (quoting the NJB):
If you come on your enemy’s ox or donkey straying, you will take it back to him. If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen under its load, do not stand back; you must go and help him with it. You will not cheat the poor among you of their rights at law. Keep clear of fraud. Do not cause the death of the innocent or upright, and do not acquit the guilty. You will accept no bribes, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and is the ruin of the cause of the upright. You will not oppress the alien; you know how an alien feels, for you yourselves were once aliens in Egypt.
The passage that struck me was the final one, which deals with treatment of others based on personal experience. The cynic in me might want to say, ‘Well, what if I don’t have such a personal experience?’, for that seems to be the driving condition for how Israel is to treat others. However, the more sober-minded me is compelled to say, ‘Just because I don’t have a specific personal experience that justifies showing compassion; that does not justly invalidate the categorical need of showing compassion.’ In other words: while it is certainly helpful, I do not need personal experience to define or confirm what is right or wrong, just or unjust. If I required such things, I fear that I would never see beyond myself; and not seeing beyond myself stifles compassion when it is most needed.
* For more on these books, go here, here, or here; and you can read them here.
** Minus a few pages for introductions and such; although, knowing me, I’ll read those as well.